Sunday, December 30, 2007

Maybe I didn't treat you quite as good as I should have...

The one thing I'll say about Bun Penny...

It should move to Oakland Mills.

With two cats in the yard...

Hey, look! My neighborhood gets profiled by the Washington Post!

In April 1972, Better Homes and Gardens featured the Pacesetter model home in Columbia in a glossy multipage color spread.

Focusing on its contemporary look, sliding-glass doors, interior courtyard deck, wall-to-wall carpeting and $27,000 price tag for a three-bedroom, two-bath house, the magazine presented the Pacesetter as the best in modern living for young couples on a limited budget. An even less expensive model featured two bedrooms and one bath.

Today, the single-level, 850- and 1,220-square-foot Pacesetter houses that line Encounter Row and the four courts that extend from it define the enclave and remain a distinctive alternative to the large Colonial-style houses more common in the region.
Both on the blog and in real life, I extoll the many virtues of my house at every opportunity, so I'll resist the urge to do so here (but you can find copious virtue-extolling easily in this blog's archives). 

However, I would like to reiterate a major point of the Post's story, one that Encounter Row resident and Oakland Mills village board member Phil Engelke and his house exemplify: namely, the ease with which these houses can be personalized has really allowed the neighborhood to evolve in ways that most suburban enclaves could only dream of. (By the way, Engelke really should win some kind of award for the amazing things he and his wife have done to their house.)

After 35 years of pleasant living, a neighborhood that started out with only two home types has become one where no two houses are the same. 
Single-family houses such as these would never be built today because they are too small and too unboxlike to be economically feasible, Engelke said. Now people build townhouses, which limits how they can adapt them, he said.

In contrast, Encounter Row homeowners have personalized the Pacesetters. Some have added large two-story additions. Others have converted the central interior deck to a sunroom or family room. Some, like the Engelkes, have added a foyer to connect the carport to the house and have turned the carport into a family room, study or studio.

"They're a canvas you can project yourself onto," Engelke said. "This house is not intimidating. It's easy to adapt."
Despite the supposed strictness of Columbia's covenants, individuality and personal style have managed to thrive in our little corner of Stevens Forest. And there is, I think, a lesson planners, developers, builders and, well, all of us can learn from this. 

Communities are dynamic places, shaped and defined by the residents who live there more than anyone or anything else, something many seem to know intuitively (or by way of Jane Jacobs) but may have trouble seeing in relation to the hyper-planned and -controlled environment of suburbia. 

Naturally, where this evolution begins is certainly a major factor in how the neighborhood evolves, and on Encounter Row, we're lucky to have started with small, affordable, adaptable, well-designed and thoughtfully placed houses. But the fact remains that construction, while the end of planning and development, is only the beginning of a community. 

Like grass growing through concrete, individuality will find a way to push through the built environment, no matter how seemingly impenetrable its design, and a community will flourish. If my neighborhood is any indication, perhaps that's something we should welcome.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Just nod if you can hear me...

It's that time of year…

The time when we get inundated with year-end lists. Last year, I offered two totally-made-up lists of awards (one, two)that each generated a lot of discussion.

But those were different times for me and this blog, times when pushing buttons was fun and (usually) without repercussions. Since I now try to avoid pushing buttons (at least, officially), a set of snarked-out awards probably isn't the best idea. Job security concerns shouldn't stop you, however.

So, here's your chance to generate some content on your own. (How's that for a sales pitch? "Do my work for me!") In the comments, let's see if we can put together a list of snarky, sarcastic or otherwise funny HoCo awards. Note: there's a fine line between this goal and meanness. Please try to avoid the latter.

Here are a few I thought of to get this party started:

Biggest Blog Letdown: Me, proprietor of two all-but-worthless blogs nowadays

Biggest Blog Surprise: Still can't say

Biggest Columbia Story of the Year: Strangely, the Poinsettia tree

Least Conclusive Columbia Story: The Tower

And…that's all I got for now. But if we get something going, perhaps I'll chime in again in the comments.

In case I don't get a chance to write again over the next week, everyone have a safe, happy holiday.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

I dreamt I saw you walking up a hillside in the snow...

Nothing like the regenerative power of snow to cure what ails...

The Husky's been a little slow to recover from last month's surgery. He's still very hesitant to use the repaired leg, largely, we believe, because he's kind of a baby and is just scared of re-injuring it. Our belief was all but confirmed yesterday when the maniac couldn't stop himself from running around in the snow yesterday. I know Marylanders are often conflicted about snow, but for the sake of my dog, who really needs to start exercising the leg more, let's all pray for a snowy winter.

In other snow news, Little Duke and I booked our tickets last night for the Big Sky Snowboard Extravaganza in February! Woo-hoo! I sure hope my sister's house is ready by then -- given the cost of plane tickets to Bozeman, I don't think we'll be able to afford commercial lodging.

Interestingly, Bridger Bowl, my sister's local ski hill and one of the stops in our southwestern Montana winter adventure, opens for business this weekend, the same weekend as our Big Three local resorts -- Liberty, Roundtop and Whitetail. The commonalities end there.

Hail victory...

On the way to the Ravens game Monday night, my friend (and blog tipster) came up with another idea: a comparison of the stadium experiences of Maryland's two professional football franchises – the Baltimore Ravens and the Washington Redskins (of Landover).

This seemed like a great idea. After all, how many chances does one get to attend two NFL games on consecutive days? Starved for decent blog content as I am, how could I refuse?

As I thought about writing this post over the past couple days, however, I realized I couldn't do the idea justice. In the span of 35 hours, I sat through two "est" games, both of which failed at providing a truly representative example of what most events at the stadiums -- FedEx Field and M&T Bank Stadium -- are really like. I would be comparing extremes that were, in some ways, opposite and, in other ways, painfully similar.

In case you live under a rock, the Redskins suffered their first real loss in quite some time when one of their best players was murdered over a week ago during a botched robbery at his house. There is nothing I can add to the Sean Taylor story that isn't just additional noise, so I won't even try.

Despite the emotions and the relative insignificance of it, the Redskins still had to line up to play their game on Sunday against the Buffalo Bills. It turned out to be the saddest sporting event I've ever attended. While Abbzug's the real Redskins fan, I still maintain a strong interest in the team of my childhood. And even if everyone's saying it, Taylor was one of my favorite players. For a fairly laid back guy, I tend to gravitate towards the football players that are ruthless on the field. Taylor, who leveled a punter during the traditionally easy-going Pro Bowl last year, was that guy for the Skins.

So, going to the game was a way for me and Abbzug to pay our respects to the man. As instructed, we arrived early and made our way to our seats for the pregame ceremony, which was far better than what I expected from a Daniel Snyder production. The band's slow rendition of "Hail to the Redskins", played as a dirge, was tremendously moving, as was the video tribute, and by the end of the 15 minute ceremony, I don't think a single "21" towel wasn't soaked with tears.

The game itself was good, right up until the last minute, when a painful series of events led to a Redskins loss that epitomized the idea of kicking someone while they're down.

In the grand scheme of things…I don't think it mattered if they won or lost. They played. They honored their teammate and friend. And the next day, they got up first thing in the morning and flew to Florida to bury him. The game's outcome changed nothing.

Nevertheless, from a fan's perspective, the loss sucked and just added to the sadness.

Undeterred, I made my way to Baltimore on Monday to watch the Ravens play the Patriots, who, in case you're living under a rock, have already been given the Lombardi trophy this year. I hate them dearly. I hate their cheating coach, their womanizing quarterback, and their totally insufferable fans, all of it. (I do kind of like Randy Moss, though – straight cash, homey!)

My only real hope for the game was that it would turn into a blow out by the half and I could leave early enough to get a decent night's sleep.

Instead, I watched the greatest game of football I've ever seen. I'm still so upset that I don't really want to talk about it, but, wow, the play on the field, the wind, the snow flurries, the crowd, everything conspired to make it an amazing night…except for the fact, minor really, that the Ravens, like the Skins the day before, lost in the final minute of the game.

Something about appreciating the journey and not just the destination seems appropriate here. But, as I said, I don't want to talk about it.

Anyway, in what is certainly the cruelest twist of fate ever delivered by the football gods, the Redskins play again tonight (Thursday) against the Chicago Bears. I know there's still a mother and father without a son, a bride-to-be without a groom, a daughter without a father, and a team without a brother – the sad reality that no game will change – but damn, it would be nice if something could go the Skins' way.

Welcome to the machine...

Some people are concerned about the Wegmans coming to Columbia and some of these concerned people have put up a website and sent out flyers to express their concerns and perhaps convince others to share in them.

Actually, cutesiness aside, Responsible Growth for Columbia's main gripe about the Wegmans is not so much the store itself or even its impact on existing grocery stores and village centers, but rather the shoppers who'll junk up our byways. They believe the store -- which, ironically, was praised as the epitome of "responsible development" by others in the past -- conducted a flawed traffic study and consequently proposed ineffectual traffic mitigation measures. I'm not going to argue either side, but if you want to hear my officially sanctioned take, the folks at RGC can, in a roundabout way, put you in touch with me.

I'm more interested in who's behind this fledgling group. Of themselves, their mostly-under construction website says:

We started out as just a couple of concerned neighbors and friends in the Owen Brown Village, and have grown to include small business owners, residents of Columbia from across all Villages.

Hmm. Anyone know anything more about them? I haven't seen their name anywhere except on their limited-run flyer (which didn't come to my house) and website-in-progress. Before you think this is some sinister attempt to silence critics of The Man, let me say that this is purely about my own curiosity and academic interest in the dynamics of community organizing and activism. Trust me, I don't care enough about Wegmans either way to get too wrapped up in it. After all, my grocery store allegiances are clear.

Anyway, what say you about the Wegmans? Good? Bad? Too much traffic? Too much food?

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

And since we've no placed to go*...



In my quest to find subjects that I like and can actually write about, snow's probably on top of the list. Actually, not so much snow itself, but how well it was forecast.

That's right: Time for some Weatherman Accountability.

It's been a while since we've done this – obviously, since the last time it snowed – and last night I debated whether I should even bring it out of retirement for today, our fourth snowy December 5th since 2002. (How's that for consistency?)

Because I usually love accountability and weather, you might wonder why I was so lukewarm the idea of bringing WA back for today's "storm." The answer is those quotes. Before it started, I didn't think this predicted low-moisture Alberta Clipper really deserved a full analysis, especially because most meteorologists were in agreement about the outcome – namely, as of last night, 1" – 2" with little real impact. See a collection of predictions at Capital Weather.

But, then, it started snowing. And it kept snowing. And thanks to a burst of heavy snow after dark, we somehow managed to get 5" of snow on the Hayduke Weather Deck by 7 pm.

This surprised even me, a person who always expects snow storms to over-perform.

Unfortunately, it totally throws a (monkey) wrench (gang) in the post I had been mentally composing all day. I, the eternal snow optimist, expected the storm to exceed expectations, but only by an inch or so, just enough to joshingly reprimand the Weather Gillterati for their poor predictions.

As fun as that post would have been, the assessment of the pre-storm weather wisdom is easy: wrong.

Here's hoping they're wrong like this all winter.

*Snow. Christmas lights. I can't help the cheesiness.

Update: Channel 9 Meteorologist Tony Pann admits to being humbled by the storm, which he actually explains was two clippers. Good stuff, indeed...

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Wie grün sind deine Blätter!

While sitting around a yule log a couple days ago, some friends and I discussed the relative merits of the ongoing Fake versus Real argument. 

Don't get any ideas. We were, of course, talking about Christmas trees.

Eventually, after discussing ease of set up and aesthetics, we came to the question of which is better for the environment. It seemed intuitive to me that real trees, even farmed and cut as they are, were the right choice for environmentally minded people -- such as myself. 

Intuition confirmed
If you want a tree for the holiday, the experts at Grist and TreeHugger say it's actually better to buy a cut real Christmas tree than an artificial tree.

Why? In a word, plastics. Fake trees are made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC). Producing this type of plastic creates a lot of pollution, and PVC is difficult to recycle.

Plus, lead has been found in PVC. According to a report(PDF) in the Journal of Environmental Health, lead levels are higher in older artificial trees. You've probably heard about lead in children's toys, so just imagine the kiddos hanging around lead-tainted branches of your fake Christmas tree. Not a merry scene.

Farmed Christmas trees are ultimately a renewable resource. Growing trees absorb carbon dioxide, and after the holidays, the trees can be recycled into mulch.
So, what about you? Do you like them real, fake or not at all?

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Everyone's gone to the movies...

Since YouTube clips seem to be the new hottness on the local blogs, here is my contribution to the trend. First, some comedy.

If this blog's audience is anything like members of my family, only a few of you (namely, musicians and people who hang out in music stores) will truly appreciate the genius of that clip. More guitar heroes receive similar treatment here.

Second, some music that's actually and intentionally good. The band is ALO and the song is Maria.

Happy Monday!

Thursday, November 08, 2007

It's getting better all the time...

Just a quick update on the Husky...

He seems to be getting back to normal, though he's still hobbling around on three legs. Complicating the healing process is the fact that he actually had work done on both hind legs. The right was the torn ACL, and the left had a fat deposit that need to be removed.

An indicator of his improving health and morale: Last night, when we got back from Trader Joe's (see below), he bounced out of his crate to come sniff through all the bags (Inspector Husky, we call it -- there's even a little song). He loves doing this, mostly because we occasionally hide a toy for him in there.

He's also lobbying hard for more outside time, but that will have to wait until the wound closes and some of the hair grows back. Not because I don't want him getting it dirty -- he's on enough antibiotics right now to kill all the bacteria in Columbia -- but because I don't want to freak out people walking by. Serioulsy, it's pretty nasty looking.

I don't want to be right...

Dear Trader Joe’s,

I shouldn’t like you. Really, I shouldn’t. After all, you’re just another chain with a gimmick – an appealing and quirky gimmick, but a gimmick nonetheless – and we have more than enough gimmicky chains around here.

But then you had to go and leave flowers by the door to welcome me with fragrance and color as I cautiously crossed your threshold.

And then, just past the symphony of colors and scents, the produce. Oh, how glorious it was to see my sugar snap peas looking healthier and tastier than anything I’ve ever seen at Giant or Food Lion. Surely they must cost a fortune.


They’re cheaper.

But that’s not all. The other produce met or exceeded the peas standard: fresh, inexpensive and a wide assortment of organics. I’ll give you this: You know how to make an entrance (area).

As I wound my way through the wide aisles, each bearing its own surprises (a 10-pound chocolate bar, pistachio cookies, bags of assorted frozen peppers – perfect for taco night!), my will-power waned, but it wasn’t until I found the Reed’s Extra Ginger Brew for nearly $2 less than anywhere else that I finally broke down and confessed my love for you.

Sure, you’re just an odd grocery store in a glitzy big box park along the highway and you don’t sell Gatorade, an essential at my house. But you’re fun. And cheap. And kind of tailored to my diet. And your employees are nice, helpful and very efficient.

But you’re so small: 11,000 square feet, according to those who know. How do you do it? How do you offer so much in such a little space? Actually, don’t answer that. I’d rather not know. I’d rather my affection exist without the cold realty of business tainting it.

Will I visit every week? Perhaps. I can’t say. I’m sure there will be times when I’d rather not drive the 10 minutes it takes to get to your door. Plus, I noticed you don’t have many of the non-food essentials: paper products, toiletries, etc. Which is fine. I know another place close by that has those; it's the only real hang up in all this: Food Lion.

I’ve stood by “The FL” for over a year, extolling its virtues to all who will listen. And here you are, in your shiny new building, disrupting a solid relationship. Home-wrecker.

Oh, that’s not fair. It’s not your fault that I like natural, healthy foods at reasonable prices. You didn’t force me to happily fill my cart with your wares.

Maybe this is just an infatuation with something new and novel that will fade with time. Who knows? But for now, let’s just keep this between you, me and the poor souls who still point their browsers to this moribund blog. (They’re cool; we can trust them to keep the secret.)



Monday, November 05, 2007

Oh what a relief it is...

Bit of an anxious day here at chez Hayduke...

The Husky went under the knife to repair, among other things, a torn ACL. Although the vet assures us he's fine, we need visual confirmation before relaxing. Thankfully, he'll be ready to come home in about a half hour.

His surgery comes after a week of hobbling around on three legs, a pretty sad sight. Also unfortunate was the timing of the injury, which happened just before our annual excursion to Green Ridge State Forest. As always, the trip was fun, but the Husky has been a fixture for the past eight years and it just wasn't complete without him getting covered in dirt and taking up too much space in the tent. See?

Anyway, I'm leaving for the vet now and after that there's the County Council hearing and the Ravens game -- quite a TV night! Before I go, here's western Maryland showing its somewhat-muted fall colors.

UPDATE: He's home and, aside from a foot-long gash, a shaved leg and a heavily drugged demeanor, appears no worse for wear.

While waiting our turn at the vet, they stuck an orange Post-It note with the letters "DND" on one of the exam room doors. A woman left that room just as we left the other. She seemed more composed than I was at the time, and my dog is still alive.

I'm still a long way off from accepting my dog's mortality.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Here come old flattop...

Just a couple quick notes on the first fall-like day of 2007…

I know others have already posted about this story, but I can't help myself. How's this for coming together to work for the common good?

After a chance encounter followed by a friendly chat and a later lunch date, County Executive Ken Ulman has submitted former rival Christopher J. Merdon's name to the County Council for appointment to the county's new revenue authority. The nomination will be formally introduced Nov. 5.
With his title, Freemarket paints a hilarious picture, while Wordbones gives it some additional context:
This speaks well for both men. It is not that often that we see this type of post election collaboration after what can be conservatively described as a nasty campaign. Nicely done!

In other news, here's an excellent piece about my old employer, Enterprise Community Partners. There doesn't seem to be much in the way of news in the story, but it does provide a good overview of what Enterprise does (hint: not renting cars) and what it has accomplished.

Unfortunately, two of the most interesting tidbits didn't make the story, but reporter Jamie Smith Hopkins nonetheless makes them public through a couple blog posts.

The first one reveals Jim Rouse's preferred name for Enterprise (The Robin Hood Trust), while the second discusses Enterprise Chairman Bart Harvey's idea to eliminate or reduce the mortgage interest tax deduction and use the money to pay for affordable housing, something I wrote about when he first floated the idea almost a year ago at a speech at Harvard. Now, I'm willing to put my money where my mouth is on affordable housing and therefore, would support such a move (not like it will ever happen), assuming it wouldn't totally tank my finances. My house, dog, appliances, and cars, to name but some, are doing a good job of that already.

Finally, it's almost here! The new Trader Joe's opens on Friday! Too bad for me. I'll be in beautiful western Maryland, soaking up the cold air and what's left of the fall foliage.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Someone saved my life tonight...

You know what's fun?

Giving blood.

You get free cookies and juice and the satisfaction of knowing that you probably helped someone who really needed it. And really, what more can you ask for?

If you'd rather not let innocent people die because they didn't have access to blood when they needed it most (shameless), why don't sign up to give blood this Friday at the Columbia Mall.

The Columbia Foundation's twentyfivefortyfive initiative and the Chamber of Commerce's Young Professionals network are teaming up (actually, kind of competing) to take your blood. Between 10 am and 3 pm next Friday, the Bloodmobile will be parked at the mall, awaiting donors. If you're interested in participating, you can schedule an appointment here (use sponsor code 14839). Not only will your blood buy you cookies and juice, but you'll also get a t-shirt and a chance to win a $500 gift card and two tickets to a Ravens game, which, if you're a Redskins fan, you can probably sell on eBay.

Who is he and what is he to you...

One of the most vexing issues facing us in HoCo Blogdom is that of anonymous commenters and whether contributions from the nameless are more or less constructive, informed, civil, etc.

Obviously, I allow anonymous comments on this blog and for the most part, always have. Also for the most part, discussions on this blog have generally been fruitful and productive, especially if you exclude the period from September to November of last year, when politics was too central to really discuss anything intelligently.

That said, I've never fully been sold on completely anonymous comments, for both pragmatic and philosophical reasons. Pragmatically, trying to maintain a discussion with several people named "Anonymous" is like herding cats. Philosophically, I tend to lean towards Jessie in the sense that a name -- even a made up one -- creates an identity and reputation that need to be protected and therefore an incentive to "think twice" about saying something foolish, inappropriate or out of character. Using Tom Berkhouse as the counter argument to this isn't appropriate because, for good or bad, he has a reputation that needs to be maintained, too.

That's a long way of shrugging my shoulders and saying "I don't know." Much of my (and others) thoughts on anonymity stem from experiences and observations, both of which are susceptible to personal biases. Not to say that it's perfect in anyway, but here's an external data point we can add to our assessment on the anonymous situation.

The beauty of open-source applications is that they are continually improved and updated by those who use them and care about them. Dartmouth researchers looked at the online encyclopedia Wikipedia to determine if the anonymous, infrequent contributors, the Good Samaritans, are as reliable as the people who update constantly and have a reputation to maintain.

The answer is, surprisingly, yes. The researchers discovered that Good Samaritans contribute high-quality content, as do the active, registered users. They examined Wikipedia authors and the quality of Wikipedia content as measured by how long and how much of it persisted before being changed or corrected.

“This finding was both novel and unexpected,” says Denise Anthony, associate professor of sociology...

...By subdividing their analysis by registered versus anonymous contributors, the researchers found that among those who contribute often, registered users are more reliable. And they discovered that among those who contribute only a little, the anonymous users are more reliable. The researchers were most surprised to find that the reliability of Good Samaritans’ contributions were at least as high as that of the more reputable registered users’ contributions...

...According to Anthony, Wikipedia now requires that anonymous contributors who make numerous edits must register.

“This will probably limit the number of low-quality contributions we find among high-use anonymous contributors, because in exposing their identity, they will have their reputation to consider,” says Anthony. “I don’t foresee this new policy affecting the quality of those Good Samaritans, though. Their presence should continue to be valuable.”

(Emphasis mine.)

I have concerns about reading too much into the study because I think there is a key difference between high frequency anonymous commenters on this and other local blogs versus high frequency anonymous Wikipedia editors. I suspect that on Wikipedia these folks are focused on poisoning the well, so to speak. For ideological, political or other reasons, they are compelled to purposely spread misinformation on certain controversial topics (evolution, global warming, the Laffer curve, etc) or to continue beating a single drum. For these people, a name is a signal to all others that the content they've added should be ignored.

Although there is likely some of that going on on the local blogs (for instance, the person who continues to comment on posts on another blog that are over a year old), I think the vast majority of anonymous commenters of all frequencies make positive contributions to the discussions by addressing the issue at hand and maintaining a respectable level of civility.

Clearly, this study doesn't hold the answers to the questions we face -- indeed, it might even raise a few more -- but it does provide an interesting perspective on the idea of anonymity in general, even if its conclusions are pretty much aligned with intuition.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Hypnotized, mesmerized by what my eyes have found...

This might not be the most cogent post I've ever written, but whatever. For the sake of my good name I think I need to say something.

You see, it all started when I had the gall, the nerve, to write a pretty straightforward post with a pretty straightforward message. Here's the post I'm talking about. Most people with decent reading comprehension skills could probably figure out what I was trying to say, but just in case, here are two bullet points that sum it up.

  • Big box stores are a fact of life that I have grudgingly come to accept as, on the whole, pretty good, and;
  • There are ideas and examples of better ways of dealing with them that mitigate some of their bad stuff and that we as a community could consider implementing
Clearly, it's not rocket science or, I would think, particularly controversial, but judging from some of the responses, I am a very poor drawer of conclusions.

Not only did the post raise the ire of at least one anti-Big Box person, but my dear old friend Tom Berkhouse took it as a proof of something nefarious. Because I rarely read closely what Berkhouse has to say (I gotta look out for what's best for my psyche, after all), I'm not sure entirely what he was trying to prove. However, I believe he used my conclusion that Big Boxes aren't all bad to prove yet again that I am a hypocrite of the highest order.

A few years ago when I was trying to save Merriweather from an owner that apparently never intended to close it down (right, Tom?), I opposed potential Big Box development in Town Center. Which clearly means that, at the time, I hated all Big Boxes, regardless of location, while the post from the other day means that, today, I love them, regardless of location. Silly me, I thought I could have it both ways -- that is, Big Boxes in appropriate areas (car-friendly Snowden/Dobbin) and no Big Boxes in inappropriate areas (people-friendly downtown Columbia).

There is only love and hate in this world, after all. Take your wishy-washy BS somewhere else, chief.

Sorry. Lesson learned.

If only it would have ended with the incessant need of Mr. Berkhouse to make it All About Town Center (and by extenison the evilness of me and Ken Ulman), but it didn't. Some crafty anonymous commenter decided to call Mr. Berkhouse by another name in an attempt to "out" him, or expose his true identity. By failing to respond in due course to this bit of pettiness, I tacitly endorsed such actions and, again, demonstrated absolute proof of my hypocrisy, at least according to David Keelan.

Mr. Keelan took it upon himself to admonish me for failing to admonish someone whose identity I still have yet to ascertain and who may or may not have ascertained the identity of Mr. Berkhouse. Normally, this would just be a failure to enforce the Choose Civility edict in effect for The Howard County Blogs, but since I had the nerve to question Mr. Keelan's decision to entrap a previous anonymous commenter over a year ago, I just demonstrated a "double standard."

Mr. Keelan drags up this comment of mine from Back in the Day:
I do want to say that I strongly disagree with David Keelan’s decision to expose the true identity of a commenter he doesn’t like, and one with whom I disagree (and am frustrated by) regularly. Regardless of how you feel about her, David’s decision sets an ugly precedent. Commenter’s [sic] can be held to different standards depending on their views and the threat of tracing identities through IP address (which are available for all to see by looking at the Site Meter reports — see bottom of the page) looms over all. Such things help stifle diverse debate and might prevent many worthy commenter’s [sic] from participating.

(Note: The [sic]s are mine, added to what Keelan posted, as I used proper grammar in my original comment. See here.)

My thoughts on involuntary outing remain the same. I still think it's wrong and wish the anonymous commeter didn't do it. But I have no idea what I was supposed to do in this case. Immediately delete the comment? Right, then I'd get in trouble for patrolling my blog on government time. Oh, and I'd probably be in trouble for failing to allow free speech, as has happened in the past when I deleted totally unsubstantiated rumors (coincidentally, written by Mr. Berkhouse). I also caused quite a fervor when I tried to get everyone to use a pseudonym because I was limiting speech.

Damned either way, I suppose.

It's also pretty funny that this was not the first time somebody tried to guess the real identity Tom Berkhouse. Indeed, the first such instance was on Mr. Keelan's blog and his response to the commenter was just as lame, if not more so, than my non-response:
Thanks for posting. Your inaugural post is telling. I am sure we can rely on you for more interesting and insightful commentary. Keep up the fine work anonymous Slim.
Look, I don't really care if Mr. Keelan wants to call me out on his blog; I just wish he would be more direct about it. If he thinks my failure to act was shady, come out and say it. Instead, we get this:
The people trying to out Berkhouse are treating Tom as if he did something terrible like threatened a county employee for trying to shut off his water for non-payment or something when in fact all Tom does is forcefully and at times very forcefully expresses a strong difference of opinion with Ian. At times Tom will criticise [sic] Ian for what Tom perceives to be a twisting of the facts in order to reach a desired conclusion. Tom is often (not always) rather enjoyable to read and makes good points but often (if not always) fails to elicit a reaction from Ian. So in fairness to Ian perhaps Ian is just simply ignoring all commenter’s [sic]. Perhaps Ian is too busy with his new job which is perfectly understandable. I have a full time job too, a family, and I just started an MBA program (which is going great so far) so I understand finding time to stay up on the local scene and one’s blog isn’t easy.

Yes, I'm busy. But, frankly, I don't have the time or the inclination to get involved in these silly bloggy squabbles (says the guy writing over 1000 words about one -- I know), rehashing the same arguments, fighting the same fight. If anonymous and semi-anonymous commenters can't discuss things without feeling offended or offending others, perhaps they should spend more time with puppies or flowers. I'm nobody's mother.

It's also kind of sad that Mr. Keelan finds the need to again apologize for completely inappropriate behavior from Mr. Berkhouse (lies, character attacks, etc.). I know a lot of people like to disagree with me about a lot of stuff and some of my more vocal critics likely revel in the treatment I receive from the resident jerk. But in a community like ours, the fact that Mr. Berkhouse still has a group of people that accept and condone his vile words is pretty lame. Disagree all you want, that's fine. But is it too much to ask that you do it with some class?

Finally, there's a lot of stuff going on locally right now that hasn't been talked about at all, yet time gets spent on this? Please, discuss and argue about the big stuff and leave the drama to the high schoolers. Continuing to worry about which anonymous person said what about some other anonymous only dooms our little blogging enterprise to irrelevance.

Speaking of irrelevance, the icing on the cake of this whole thing is that -- as I told someone recently -- my blog is about two steps away from reading like a little girl's diary. Over my "two weeks" of silence I've only had two ideas for posts -- one about the rather large amount of acorns falling on my house and the other about my awesome dog. I'm being totally serious. There's a ton of acorns coming off our big oak and my dog is freaking awesome (for instance, he recently started "talking" in his sleep, which is probably the cutest thing I've ever seen).

Unfortunately, I haven't been able to write either post and my silence on the subjects is probably proof of my true disdain for oak trees and huskies.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Little boxes made of ticky tacky

As much as it may hurt my anti-establishment cred (as if there's really any of that left), I think I'm coming around on big box stores. Sure, they're soulless, harmful to local businesses and the idea of buying jeans, lawn furniture and iPods in the same store is kind of silly, but they do offer convenience and great prices. And, really, who doesn't like easy shopping and low prices?

On balance (and in economist-speak), I'd say Target, Best Buy, Borders et al have produced net gains in our collective welfare. Which is a good thing, I think. What's more, they're so entrenched in today's consumer culture that fighting them doesn't really seem like the "good fight."

All that said, I still have a special place in my heart for local businesses and do what I can to support them. While big boxes may be great for getting mass produced items on the cheap, customer service is borderline nonexistent and the quality of the goods is questionable, both of which are fine for some things (jeans, lawn furniture, iPods, etc) but not so much for others (bicycles, suits, dinner, etc.).

Of course, over the last several years, we've seen the imbalance between big box, chain retailers and smaller, locally-owned shops grow. This is an unfortunate, but not intractable, situation. See, for instance, Washington DC:

The shells for what will be some of the biggest big-box retailers Columbia Heights has ever known are rising along 14th and Irving streets and Park Road NW. They include Target, Best Buy, and Bed Bath & Beyond .

Yet below these retail giants, space has been reserved for the little guys.

A Peruvian restaurant has signed a lease, as has a local African American franchiser of the Quizno's sandwich chain. A Vietnamese grocer is negotiating to bring a Pho restaurant to the development. A locally owned spa may also come.

The $149.5 million DC USA project is being developed by Grid Properties of New York. President Drew Greenwald said the firm will reserve 15,000 square feet, or about 11 percent, of ground-floor retail space for local and minority-owned businesses, under an agreement with the District to buy and develop the land. He will reduce rents by 30 percent to encourage smaller tenants.

"With all the projects, it is going to be a nice mix," Greenwald said. "It kind of has a little bit of everything."

Throughout the District, developers are carving out space for locally owned or small businesses. While small businesses tend to be riskier bets than their better-financed corporate counterparts are, mixing local and national retailers is a goal of city officials when selling or leasing public land.

So, the circumstances aren't perfectly analogous, but the idea is good, right?

Thanks to Jamie for the link. Also, for more on local restaurants, Jessie's got the scoop.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Consider this...

I haven't posted recently because it's been an absolutely crazy week at work, but at least I have something to show for it.

Downtown Columbia: A Community Vision is available for review. The description from the County website:

County Executive Ken Ulman announces the next step in the evolution of Downtown Columbia. DPZ is asking for your input and comments on the draft document that is to guide this next step. During the month of October, the County will hold a series of meetings and workshops to provide additional information and to ask for public input.

Please review the framework document available below, attend one or more of the public meetings, and provide the community with your comments. Please feel free to telephone, send an email or fill out a For Your Input form with your questions and comments.

Also on the website is a list of tour dates for the traveling roadshow and a copy of the Town Center traffic study. Feel free to leave comments on the draft here, but if you want your comments added to the official record, you're going to have to go through the official channels -- for instance, this online feedback form.

Get involved. Give it a read.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Nothing from nothing leaves nothing...


Suburban sprawl is the missing link in climate change, a group of urban planning researchers said today, warning in a new report that global warming can only be slowed by changing development patterns to reduce the need for driving.

Living in more compact, pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods actually would do more to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide -- the chief climate-changing gas -- than driving a hybrid car while staying in a typically spread-out suburb, the report asserts.

"The research shows that one of the best ways to reduce vehicle travel is to build places where people can accomplish more with less driving," Reid Ewing, the report's lead author and a research professor at the National Center for Smart Growth Research and Education at the University of Maryland, said in a statement released with the report.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

What else should I be...

I know, I know.

Yes, I know.

I'm a big time slacker.

I need to post more.

If only I could create a computer program to read all the local news stories and blogs and then write posts for me. That would be sweet, huh?

Anyway, I got kickball tonight against a team that's been talking trash for months. We need to win these games to save some dignity.

But, before I run off to Centennial, I wanted to share to Oakland Mills-related items.

First, next Thursday – the 27th, for those of you who don't read daily (but who can blame you?) -- is the second Community Connections Gathering at Fire Rock Grill. The party starts at 6 pm and if it's anything like last time, you're sure to have a blast. Non-OMers are welcome to, but I can't promise we won't force you to take part in some potentially painful hazing activities. I'm kidding… sorta.

Since you'll already be at Fire Rock, might as well stick around for Taglines Comedy night, too. Don't pay full price, though. Ask around for half-off cards.

Secondly and finally, there is now a website for the Meridian Square project, the new office building set to go in on the old, abandoned Exxon site in the Oakland Mills Village Center. Although the finished building will not be as architecturally adventurous as it was in earlier drawings, I'm still impressed with it overall and am looking forward to the positive impact it'll have on our village, especially if they can land a nice café in one of the first floor retail spaces.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Your love is like a rollercoaster...

Something weird always happens at Six Flags in Largo.

Something, that is, beyond the normal weird stuff you expect to see in the amusement park milieu. You know, horrible fashion choices, unhappy families bordering on total meltdowns, vomit, exorbitant beverage prices and the like.

Last year, I got stuck on the final hill of the Skull Island log pflume/water coaster (it's exact classification is a source of disagreement between my brother and I). We were up there for about 45 minutes, before they had us disembark and walk down the gangplank. All things considered, it wasn't a particularly bad (read: scary) place to get stuck, and we got a bunch of free jump-the-line passes out of it. So, it worked out in the end.

Then, this past Saturday, we took a spur of the moment trip down to Largo for some roller coasters. We started the day on what is by far the park's best -- The Superman. After a very steep 200-foot drop, it hits speeds of 75 miles per hour and doesn't let up for the entire trip, shooting over additional hills and through tight, banked turns. It's very smooth, to boot. I could ride it all day, which is basically what I did.

But I did manage to do most of the others at least once, including Two Face, a hanging (i.e. feet-dangling) roller coaster that pulls you up a hill to start, drops you back through the station, throws you through some loops and then up another hill, before doing the whole thing backwards.

I love roller coasters. Which is another way of saying I don't really get scared and they don't make me sick. But about midway through the Two Face, my vision started to get dark and I felt like I was going to pass out. I got off feeling dizzy and disoriented, as did my brother and his girlfriend. We decided, appropriately (I think), not to ride it again.

Good thing, too. Later in the day, it got stuck 100 feet up in the air. Yikes. Getting down from a hanging coaster is, I would imagine, significantly harder than getting down from a log pflume.

I wonder if the stranded riders got free passes. Actually, for that "inconvenience" I'd be demanding something of real value -- like a bottle of water.

How will this all play out...

I’m not sure what to make of the news (via Jessie) that the Columbia Bike Guy, Athar - he of the red mohawk - has a Facebook fan club.

(Disclaimer: I’m on Facebook but am horrible about checking it. My bad. I’ll get around to the pile of messages one day.)

While I think it’s kind of cute that he’s reached this level of notoriety, I’m not sure how sincere it is. Sure there’s probably a mix of motivations in the group, but I get the feeling that most see him simply as a freak who makes a good backdrop for a silly photo. After all, pronouncements to the contrary notwithstanding, The Internet is still largely a place where people go to laugh at others.

I mean, if random but visible people deserve fan clubs, why isn’t there one for the Columbia Ninja (the woman who dresses in all black and rides her bike along Rt. 175)? Or, what about the Poodle Lady who’s always walking a gray, standard Poodle around Town Center? Are there others I’m not thinking of?

Jessie thinks this fan club is a way of reaching out and including him in our community, something that may be true in either a positive, welcome-to-the-club way or in a negative, ask-him-over-for-cookies-and-then-ambush-him-with-water-balloons way. (Yes, if you're wondering, I know of the latter "way" through experience -- it basically describes my first date with Abbzug.)

Maybe I’m just being overprotective. I’ve run into Athar a bunch of times on the paths, and as someone who enjoys riding a bike all over Columbia, I have long felt a special affinity for him. The fact that he’s (apparently) as well known as he is comes as a bit of a shock. It’s almost as though I want the Facebookers to prove their intentions before joining the club. But as we all know, that’s impossible.

Or, maybe he enjoys the celebrity (he seems happy in the photo Jessie posted). And perhaps this is just a way for other Columbians to celebrate something (rather, someone) unique to our community. He could be our very own Wild Bill Hagy.

Whatever the case, I just hope Athar doesn’t let fame go to his head.

It's a simple assumption that nobody knows...

A grammatical request: Please, everyone, stop using “ask” as a noun. And while you’re at it, eliminate the phrase “touch base” from your vocabulary, except when referring specifically to baseball or kickball.


Sunday, September 09, 2007

While I think of something clever to say...

Between kickball, meetings, fantasy football drafts, an impromptu trip to Six Flags, Labor Day car races and myriad other things, it's been a busy week for me.

And today, football begins for real.

All of which is to say, sorry for not posting anything recently. I promise at least something fun or substantive this week, but until then, a quick anecdote.

I went to the 15th anniversary celebration of the Rouse Scholars program at Howard Community College on Thursday night. While there, I stumbled upon my class (Rouse III) "yearbook" from 1997. It was full of funny (embarassing) pictures and quotes from the class, including a section on where we each thought we'd be in 10 years.

My response -- written from the perspective of a wannabe rock star -- was: "I'll be married, with three kids, two cars, a house in suburbia and working a 9 to 5 job. And I'll also be a strong supporter of the Republican Party."

I'm still not sure what to make of the fact that I've become the target of my 90s-era irony, even if it's not entirely right. I don't, after all, have a 9 to 5 job.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

It's such a crying shame...

Stupid Comcast.

I'm posting from my cell phone because my internet service doesn't seem to be functioning. At least I'm getting about half of my regular cable channels. It's Craptastic!

Normally, I wouldn't bother posting anything under such circumstances, but since I need to follow my "once a week" rule (and because I promised a friend I'd write about an event), I'm giving my thumbs a workout.

Tomorrow night (Friday) is your last chance to catch a free movie at The Other Barn in Oakland Mills. The feature presentation is one best viewed on a big screen with a bunch of people: Star Wars! (The first one).

The show starts at 7 pm and is free and open to everyone (we're really nice on the East Side). Hit up Jessie's spot for more details.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Look at me... I can be... centerfield...

Instead of talking about 27-run losses, how about some happy sports news?

Kickball season is underway!

Yes, Team Hayduke had our first (and only) practice last night, and judging by what I saw, I think it's time to put the other teams on notice: We're ready to ball.

But I'm not really here to share all the details of my kickball team (yet). Rather, I'm writing because David Wissing made me do it.

He has perfected the art of throwaway digs -- using an offhand word or two to take a swipe at things like global warming, Democrats, or the Redskins.

So, the other day when he called my blog "dormant," I took umbrage: "Hey, I'm posting at least once a week," I said to myself.

Which is a pretty lame response.

My trouble accepting the obvious -- that my blog is what's really lame -- was probably a result of the fact that for the first time since I took my new job, I missed blogging. This isn't to say I'd trade my job for the blog -- let's not get crazy -- it's just that I missed being part of all fun everyone's been having these past couple weeks. A few examples:

Our own local Carmen Sandiego, Jessie, has popped up in various places with play-at-home questions and tangible examples of community planning principles. Her most recent visit was to a couple impromptu paths in Oakland Mills, which reminded me of a story I heard in one of my first urban studies classes.

During the early days of Disney Land, people were eschewing the carefully laid out walkways in favor of shortcuts across grassy areas. Park management approach Walt Disney about the problem and recommended installing fences around the grass. Disney, apparently, rebuffed them, saying that's where new sidewalks should go.

There's more to that than just sidewalks, I think.

Bill Santos has also been sharing a bunch of Columbia and general planning insights, including this post linking to the "Neighbor Manifesto," a great, thoughtful read on where.

Meanwhile, with tons of pictures and frequent updates, David Wissing's coverage of that thing that I don't really want to mention has been great; he even created a separate category for it.

Of course, there's politics, too. See David Keelan and Freemarket.

Even Wordbones, after taking a slew vacations this summer, is rested up and back in the saddle.

Actually, it seems to me that, like my kickball team, our local blogs have covered all the bases, and also like kickball, I should just stay out in centerfield and catch the occasional lazy fly ball, such as:

I'm reading a new book about the development of a subdivision in rural Pennsylvania called Last Harvest: How a Cornfield Became New Daleville: Real Estate Development in America from George Washington to the Builders of the Twenty-first Century, and Why We Live In Houses Anyway (kind of a mouthful). At times reminiscent of our own situation in Howard County, it offers a comprehensive look residential development, from theories and planning to public hearings and approvals, some of which is, naturally, common knowledge to people like us. Nonetheless, there are many insights within the book that, I think, provide valuable to our local dialogue (which is a way of saying I think you should read the book).

Here are a couple quotes worth sharing:

The modest single-family house is the glory of the suburban tradition. It offers its inhabitants a comprehensible image of independence and privacy while also accepting the responsibilities of community.

If you've been to my house (or neighborhood) you'll probably know why that one resonates with me.

Then, there's this, from a town meeting:
We've been doing conventional development and we hate it. Why don't we try something new, and if we don't like it we won't do it anymore.

OK, that's enough for now. Back to dormancy, at least until somebody pokes me again.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

And the cat's in the cradle...

Goodbye, Bijou, and rest in peace.

Between me, my brother and the dog, you had some tough times, but you lived to a ripe old age, even catching your first mouse in the twilight of your life.

My deepest apologies for "Super Kitty." Just don't forget who snuck you into the house in the first place.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

With a thirty-nine-and-a-half foot pole...

I'm not going anywhere near some of the recent local stories on this blog (for obvious reasons). If you want to talk to me about them, however, a cold beer might loosen me up.

Short of that, I wanted to share a meeting announcement about something that was (is?) a bit controversial.

The Green Neighborhoods checklist developed as part of the package of recently approved green building legislation is still awaiting a final decision. In an effort to inform more folks about the checklist and what it is designed to accomplish, there will be a public meeting on Wednesday, August 22 at 4 pm at the Gateway building to discuss the details. If you're interested in attending, shoot me an email (hocohayduke - at - and we'll make sure we've got space for you.

For those of you who don't know, this checklist will be used to certify residential projects wishing to take advantage of the pool of green neighborhood housing allocations. Projects must earn a predetermined number of points for each green feature included in the development. If you're interested in seeing the checklist before the meeting, let me know and I can get you a copy (I know people who know people who know how to get it).

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

I'd like to teach the world to sing...

I tend to look at things from a very selfish perspective – everything's always about me – which is completely fine. Just ask any economist.

Anyway, keeping that in mind, a brief statement about immigration/multiculturalism as it relates to me: Mexican Coke is now available from at least two local merchants, Sam's Mart in Oakland Mills and Exxon in Long Reach.

Given that Sam's is basically a Latino grocer, it's not surprising to see imported sodas there. That the best version of Coke is available at an Exxon station, on the other hand, is certainly a sign of mainstreaming.

I say, bring it on! Let's erase the artificial borders (and sweeteners) that keep us from total soda enjoyment!

Monday, August 06, 2007

I've been walking the streets at night...

When I took the new job, I made a promise to myself that I'd post something on the blog at least once a week; my last post was exactly a week ago.

There's a lesson about human nature somewhere in that statement.

On a somewhat related note, I've always thought that I have a finite amount of words in me each day and that attempts to cross that threshold will always end in disappointment. I now know that to be true.

Since I'm nearing today's word limit, I'll keep this brief.

In case you haven't heard, there was some big news on the Turf Valley front. Freemarket's got the details.

Meanwhile, Wordbones started a new blog to chronicle the development of an office building in Emerson that he's overseeing. I think this will be a fascinating look into a world some of us like to think we already understand (really, we don't).

Finally, I'm still thinking about ways to spice up this blog while I'm busy, in Jessie's words, "calibrating himself and his blog to his new job." One idea that has popped up in my mind (and others') is to turn this blog into a family affair. Since Little Duke (my brother) is now a resident of this fair city -- and one of the original readers of this blog -- maybe we can convince him to weigh in on the news of the day. It's not like he's got anything else to do, after all (sitting around in his underwear learning old Dream Theater songs doesn't count).

Monday, July 30, 2007

If the weather gets better we can get together...

Just a couple of quick item to share.

First, the county council just passed the package of green building legislation, which made the people I work with rather happy (me too, but not, apparently, Jessie). I'm sure you'll get all the details from the local papers in the next couple days.

In other county news, the Department of Planning and Zoning introduced an RSS feed today. If, like me, you can't get enough information about planning, zoning and development matters (really, who can't?), you'll love it. I'd say it's a safe bet that you'll soon see a DPZ RSS widget on this blog sometime soon.

And finally, if there's one thing we aren't left wanting for in Columbia it's meetings. Indeed, the glut of Columbia-related events makes it hard for most normal people to keep track of everything. Well, the good people at the Columbia Association have made keeping tabs on the packed schedule a bit easier with this new, online calendar, which is surprisingly sophisticated and powerful. The only drawback: No more excuses for missing meetings.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

So let me introduce to you...

...the new deck.

As promised yesterday, here are some shots of our new outdoor living space.

Now we just need to get some deck furniture and landscape the rest of the backyard.

But first, I have to say how happy I am with the guys who built our deck -- Don and Mike's Home Improvements. Although it may appear otherwise, our deck was not a simple project, but Don and Mike (and their assorted helpers) took all the complications in stride and gave us exactly what we were looking for. This project has also been the talk of the pathways around here, with many of our neighbors stopping on their walks to admire their work and inquire about their services. If you're looking for honest, hardworking, and reasonable contractors (who are friendly to boot!), I highly recommend Don and Mike.

(In the interest of full disclosure, they're not giving me anything to say such nice things.)

Stay tuned for an announcement about the first cook out!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

It's done.

In a little over a week, my side yard went from dirt to deck. It's nice.

Since it was dark when I got home tonight, I don't have any pictures of the finished deck. But these photos of the construction site over the past few days should tide you over.

The old deck:

The new deck frame:
The new deck boards:

Monday, July 23, 2007

For those about to rock…

Although I’m still trying to figure out how to walk the fuzzy line between my job and blogging, when I saw this come across my desk, I knew it was something I could share.

Howard County Executive Ken Ulman will be on hand to get a birds-eye look at Merriweather Post Pavilion’s newest addition, rooftop solar paneling. Brad Canfield, Director of Operations & Production for Merriweather Post Pavilion, has invited the County Executive to come view Merriweather's first step in "going green" and to learn more about exactly what these types of solar panels can do. In addition to viewing the solar panels, County Executive Ulman will also be awarding Merriweather the County's first "Green Salute."

This salute will be part of an ongoing effort to recognize Howard County residents and businesses who have decided NOW is the time to do their part to protect our environment. After a brief presentation, the County Executive and Mr. Canfield will be joined by the installers of the solar panels; all will then take a lift up to the rooftop to get an up close look at the installed solar panels.

The public is invited to come, too, so if you’ve got nothing better to do on Thursday (July 26) at 9:30 am, come on out and see the new solar panels for yourself. Actually, if you’ve never been to Merriweather while it’s “dark,” you’re missing out. I think I had as much fun on the tour a few years ago as I did at some concerts.

And while we’re on the topic of Merriweather, the Sun this week asked residents how they felt about the possibility of a renovation that allowed for year-round use. Send your letters here.

And, finally, speaking of letters, I was glad to see the letters to the Sun about the Columbia birthday party – just a bunch of people who, apparently, had a grand old time. Ain’t nothing wrong with that.

Stay tuned for more pictures of the deck! (Are you tired of that yet?)

Thursday, July 19, 2007

He was turned to steel in the great magnetic field...

I finally found a license plate worth paying a premium for:

My Cooperstown plans having been thwarted, slapping a pair of Cal Ripken Jr. plates on the Red Dragon seems like the next best tribute.

Share this evening...

Hey, OMers, did you go to the meeting tonight? Want to share any interesting ideas you heard?

Also, for all county residents, County Executive Ken Ulman will be hosting a somewhat open-ended public forum next Wednesday night at Oakland Mills High School beginning at 6 pm. All of his department heads will be there (his executive assistants, too), and you'll have a chance to talk about pretty much whatever you want.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

All dressed up, no place to go...

Hey, the Sun's website got a fancy, schmancy redesign.

And speaking of redesigns, here's more on Merriweather and the idea to make it a year-round venue (without sacrificing the quality of it's summer state).

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Keep him in the hole...

The Deck, day one, from last night.

We always stand up straight...

Although Dan Beyers mentioned it last week, I'm going to mention it again because: 1. Repetition is the key to awareness; and 2. I don't have the time or energy to think of something else to say.

This Thursday at 7 pm at the Other Barn residents are invited to share their thoughts for a community enhancement project on Robert Oliver Place, between the Barns and the Interfaith center. I've already heard some great ideas, but I'm sure the community at large can come up with concepts that are even better.

In the great effort to revitalize the Oakland Mills Village Center, this is probably just a small step, but it is certainly not an insignificant one. I hope you can make it on Thursday.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

This life is going to be all about the dangling possibilities...

After saying in my last post that, new job aside, I'd try to keep up my regular blogging pace, I dropped off the face of the earth for the next five days. Talk about empty promises (maybe I do have a future in politics).

If it's any consolation, not only have I neglected the blog, I haven't returned an email or phone call or done much of anything over the past nine days but paint (and putty and caulk and sand and similar nonsense). I did make a couple exceptions: a midnight showing of Harry Potter on Tuesday, a friend's 30th birthday party, half a day at the county office building getting the deck permit (work starts this week!) and a couple bike rides. But for the most part, I got up in the morning, worked until it got dark and ran to Home Depot(s) at night.

It was glorious.

Some people go on vacations to exotic (or not) place or retreats to monasteries to clear their minds. Me, I work on houses. Indeed, the last time I left a job I really liked for an opportunity stuffed with uncertainty, I spent two weeks repairing a beat-up rental property for a landlord who personified all the bad connotations associated with "absentee." At least this time the house is mine (and there aren't any fleas to speak of).

While I've done more than my share of painting, I've never actually painted a house. So, I had no idea what I was getting into. And as much as I think I should have finished the job during my week off, I'm content with what I accomplished, especially considering the amount of work required to prep the house and the quality of the previous paint job (a neighbor mentioned that the last owner to paint the house bragged that he finished the job in just 13 hours -- it showed).

Anyway, as proof that I haven't been just lounging around playing Wii, here are a couple shots of the house. Note the remaining work for next weekend and the new shed in the "after" shot.

Thanks to my dad for helping out on Friday and all my neighbors who stopped by to offer advice (some good, some less so) or words of encouragement.

More later.

Until then, an advertisement for an great event this week:

at the Columbia Foundation invites you to join us at

"Give to Greet"
a benefit for the Domestic Violence Center (DVC) of Howard County

Wednesday, July 18, 2007
5:30-7:00 pm

Domestic Violence Center- 5457 Twin Knolls Road, Suite 310-Columbia, 21045

A donation to the DVC "Wish List" is required for admittance.
Light hors d'oeuvres and beverages provided.


RSVP: 410.730.7840 or

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

It's getting hot in here...


It's freaking hot.

Not that you didn't know this -- even if you go from an air-conditioned house to an air-conditioned car to an air-conditioned office and back, you can't escape the dreadful, stifling heat (or people talking about it).

Naturally, I picked this week to paint the house.

The outside of the house.

Of course, given that I live in a 35 year old house with wood siding, I haven't actually gotten around to painting just yet. Four days and all I have to show for my work is a new post for the carport, a handful of new pieces of trim, and gobs and gobs of patched and caulked holes, cracks and crevices. Also, I've probably lost 10 pounds (a lot for someone as skinny as I), but I've consumed at least two, maybe ten, times that much in Gatorade and water.

I actually didn't pick this week to paint. It just sort of happened that way.

I hinted at something in the last post I wrote but claimed I couldn't explain it. See, I had planned to write a comprehensive, long-winded post describing something that's kind of a big deal (for me, anyway). I was probably going to talk about it in philosophical and psychological terms, about how it's changing the way I've defined myself for the last several years (mainly as a thrower of "wrenches" -- figuratively speaking).

After trying for weeks to write something about it, however, I couldn't figure out how to say what I wanted to say. So...

I left my position with Enterprise last Friday to take a job with Ken Ulman's administration. Starting next Monday, I'm going to be an Executive Assistant in his office, helping with a variety of things like writing, constituent service and policy. In a lot of ways, it'll mean getting paid for things I already do -- attend meetings, write about local matters, think about ways to make Howard County even better -- but from a completely different perspective.

That I'm taking this job should in no way reflect poorly on Enterprise, which was the best place I ever worked. As excited as I have been for the new opportunity, saying goodbye to Enterprise was one of the main reasons I've been out of sorts for the past couple weeks.

Now, obviously, I'm expecting at least one hater to come out of the woodwork and criticize me, my new job and Ulman (I think Berkhouse once even asked whether Ulman had promised me a job before the election, which he didn't). That's fine. Sometimes you just gotta let it out.

But just know that I wouldn't have taken this job -- or ever started this blog -- if I didn't want what everyone here wants: a great place to live. We may have deep, fundamental differences of opinion about what that means or how we accomplish it, but the end goal is still the same.

So, what does this mean for the blog? Well, you may have noticed that over the past month I've drifted away from some of the more controversial and political stories -- the Tower, the duplex legislation, etc. For myriad reasons, I won't really be writing about such things, but I will continue to write about all sorts of other happenings in the county and, of course, the deck (getting the permit tomorrow and the guys will start working later this week, hopefully). I can't say with any certainty how much blogging I'll be able to squeeze in, but I'll try to keep up the usual pace.

Anyway, lunch time's up and I've got a bunch of stuff to do before going to see Harry Potter tonight (woo-hoo!), so that's it for now.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Someone came and washed away your hard-earned peace of mind...

Maybe you've noticed, or maybe not, but things have been quiet around here this week. Not for lack of effort, however. I've sat down to write nearly every night, but thus far haven't been able to say just what I want to say.

It's been a strange week. The pleasant temperatures (for July, anyway) and the midweek holiday framed a few deeper personal happenings, among them the death of a friend from what seems like another life, the approach of the big 3-0 and something else that I haven't figured out how to explain yet.

On balance, I'm fine and there's no need to worry or sympathize, but rather than navigate around the uncertainty, questions and emotions, I decided to embrace them, which makes for a mindset not suited to pithiness and sarcasm (i.e. blogging). I'm only writing now out of a bizarre compulsive need to broadcast personal details about my life.

There is much for me to be excited about in the coming weeks and much of it I'll share on this blog -- maybe tomorrow, maybe next week, but definitely soon.

Now, I need to go spend a lot of money at Home Depot. Yay, power tools!

Monday, July 02, 2007

I want it all...

After six months of drooling at pictures, I finally got a chance to stop by the Apple Store today and play with the iPhone.

It is fantastic.

But as much as I want one, spending $600 on a phone, not to mention the $175 cancellation fee to get out from under Verizon's grip, isn't in the cards for me now. I've had enough trouble convincing Abbzug to let me buy a new laptop, and there's no sense destroying all that hard work by angling for something else. Stay focused!

Anyway, here are some pictures I took a few hours before the iPhone's release on Friday.

Look at all those suckers waiting in line.

Who am I kidding? If allowed, I would have been right there with them.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

We're gonna have a good time...

How about some pictures from the last night at the City Fair?

Hmm. That picture doesn't fully capture the fireworks experience. A video, perhaps?

That's better.

The whole set of photos from yesterday, including some of the preparations, can be seen here.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

The regular crowd shuffles in…

Abbzug and I had a great time last night at the Oakland Mills Community Connections Gathering. There was a really good crowd -- the bar area was nearly packed -- and in addition to just being part of such a positive community experience, it was great to see a bunch of familiar faces and meeting several new ones. I’m told to expect these nights at least once each “quarter” (season is such a better term), and of course, you’ll know the dates if you keep reading this blog.

A couple interesting tidbits to share: Oakland Mills sends out weekly emails to residents, with information about upcoming meetings, events and news of interest. I love these emails, but in talking with people who know, it sounds like we’re the only village that provides such a service. If I lived in another village, I’d be asking for it.

Second, more than a couple people commented to me that they actually like reading about the ongoing deck project. So, needless to say, you’ll be hearing (and seeing) more… soon.

Finally, I can’t say more yet, but for now: West Columbia, you’re on notice.

Fellow OMers: Please share your thoughts about last night and any ideas on how to make the gatherings better or for other events.

Non OMers: Don't be shy. Next time, come on out; we don't bite.

Remember me to one who lives there...

Coming into work today on foot (a long story), it was hard not to notice that preparations for the resurrected Columbia City Fair are underway. I spent most of the day looking out my window at carnival rides rising from flat bed trailers and am now officially excited for at least a couple. But I'm wondering: Where are the swings?

The absence of a swing ride aside, it looks like this should be a fun weekend for Columbia. I'll probably be there for parts of each day in between all manner of other things I have going on. (One of which is moving the Little Brother from his house in Baltimore to his new place in Jeffers Hill. Yup, that's right, the Hayduke family is strengthening its [East Side!] Columbia presence.)

If rides and carnies aren't your bag but you're looking for some other way to commemorate Columbia's 40th, General Growth has reissued many of the village/neighborhood posters and is making them available for purchase at the information desk in the mall. Proceeds will benefit the Columbia Foundation, which I think qualifies as a worthy cause. Because I'm a blatant homer for Columbia, I stopped by work and picked up the Stevens Forest poster. Yeah, it's nice.

Ain't nothing but the dog in me...

I don't usually talk about national politics in this space, but this is so utterly astounding/disturbing that I have to share.

The white Chevy station wagon with the wood paneling was overstuffed with suitcases, supplies, and sons when Mitt Romney climbed behind the wheel to begin the annual 12-hour family trek from Boston to Ontario.

As with most ventures in his life, he had left little to chance, mapping out the route and planning each stop. The destination for this journey in the summer of 1983 was his parents' cottage on the Canadian shores of Lake Huron. Romney would be returning to the place of his most cherished childhood memories.

...Before beginning the drive, Mitt Romney put Seamus, the family's hulking Irish setter, in a dog carrier and attached it to the station wagon's roof rack. He'd built a windshield for the carrier, to make the ride more comfortable for the dog.

Then Romney put his boys on notice: He would be making predetermined stops for gas, and that was it.

...The ride was largely what you'd expect with five brothers, ages 13 and under, packed into a wagon they called the ''white whale.''

As the oldest son, Tagg Romney commandeered the way-back of the wagon, keeping his eyes fixed out the rear window, where he glimpsed the first sign of trouble. ''Dad!'' he yelled. ''Gross!'' A brown liquid was dripping down the back window, payback from an Irish setter who'd been riding on the roof in the wind for hours.
As the rest of the boys joined in the howls of disgust, Romney coolly pulled off the highway and into a service station. There, he borrowed a hose, washed down Seamus and the car, then hopped back onto the highway. It was a tiny preview of a trait he would grow famous for in business: emotion-free crisis management.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The kind of voices she would soon learn to deny...

Before this week, I never realized how much I don't like barking.

See, I have a Husky, who aside from being the Best Dog Ever, doesn't bark. Sure he howls, whines and occasionally yelps, but every sound he utters has a communicative purpose: either I'm hungry, I need to go outside, or I need you to stop watching your stupid baseball game and hold this stuffed fish while I rip it to shreds (his favorite game). Sometimes he says other things, too, although I've found people generally start questioning my grip on reality when I describe conversations I've had with my dog.

Shattering the bark-free environment in my home this week is a friend's Dalmatian, who's a lovely dog in almost every respect... except for the totally random barking. I can understand barking when the doorbell rings or when there's an animal traipsing through the yard, but most of the time she barks for no apparent reason other than to shatter my eardrums, destroying final remnants of hearing not lost to rock and/or roll.

So, that's my gripe. Here's some stuff you might want to gripe about.

Concern over the uncertain future of our village centers makes what's happening in Oakland Mills so important. Rather than waiting for someone else to take the lead or relying on past assumptions about what village centers are supposed to be, OMers are charting their own course and while the work may be slow, progress is being made. Yes, I'm a homer.

Speaking of Oakland Mills, tomorrow night between 5:30 and 7:30 pm (Wednesday) is the community gathering at Fire Rock. Come on out!

Anne Arundel County and the Maryland State Police have joined Howard County in suspending step out traffic enforcement following the death of police officer Scott Wheeler last week.

Finally, Howard Community College's Rouse Scholars program is celebrating its 15th birthday. I like to think the program survived in spite of having me as an alumnus. Would it surprise you if I said the only college degree hanging on my wall is an A.A. in Liberal Arts (typical) from HCC?

The Yankees are in town.

Monday, June 25, 2007

In case you failed to notice...

I'm still trying to figure out what to say about this.