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.

This morning I woke up, feeling brand new...

Sometimes I wonder who I’ve become. And then I read stories like this one and remember that I’m still me.

Make you think they got the all-seein' eye...

The county’s now offering data layers for Google Earth.


Anyone know if there's a way to add the paths from Dan's map, too?

Sunday, June 24, 2007

We're on a world tour...

Remember when I used to get up and write a bunch of posts every Sunday morning? Probably not -- nobody read the blog back then.

Well, that used to be the routine, until I bought a house. And now I spend Sunday mornings devising ways to block squirrels from living in my shed.

Today, however, I'm feeling nostalgic, and though it's no longer technically morning and I'm not going to write a bunch of posts, I am writing something, which is more than I've done on a weekend in a long time.

Before we get into the meat of the post, an update on the deck (by request). With little discussion -- a surprise, considering the number and significance of projects we were proposing -- the Oakland Mills RAC approved our request to build a deck, a fence (actually, two, kinda) and a new entryway. Now we just need to sort things out with the county, which may or may not be a lengthy and very-involved process. Basically, we'll either have a new deck in a few weeks or a few years. One of the two; nothing in between.

With that out of the way, onto a look around the local news/blog scene:

First, a story about the funeral of Howard County police officer Scott Wheeler, who was hit by a car and died last weekend while working speed enforcement on Route 32 -- the first on-duty death for the department in over 40 years. It's just sad.

The Sun this week is asking readers how they feel about the "step out" method of traffic enforcement. Judging from what I've heard from others, I expect this to generate a fairly lopsided response.

Affordable housing is in the news, which is usually enough to make people like me happy. But, as NumbersGirl explains (via FreeMarket), creating affordable housing ain't easy, except when it is, which is actually when it's hardest. Got that?

Meanwhile, David Keelan's done writing about global warming climate change atmospheric apocalypse, but at the same time, his blog might be trending back to more HoCo stuff (which is a good thing...marginal utility and whatnot). He takes on the idea of a living wage bill in this post, which also generated a pretty good discussion.

On to matters Columbia, communal mailboxes became quite a topic of discussion recently. David Wissing got everything going with a link to a Post article about them, prompting a reply from Evan, who doesn't think the mailboxes did much "to change how people think about the world." But that seems to be asking a lot of mailboxes.

Nonetheless, David and Evan's thoughts about the mailboxes fail to match the passion in this post on the newish blog, Cranky in Columbia, which offers unvarnished (and under informed) thoughts on "life in the suburbs stuck between Baltimore, MD and Washington, DC." This is the blog for those of you wondering how you wound up in and why you can't leave this mess of cul-de-sacs.

Speaking of Columbia's quirks, Bill Santos (not that he's quirky, at least not entirely) penned an ode as a birthday present to our fair suburb using only the unique street names we know so well (or not). Conveniently, he left out my street name. Purely an accident, I'm sure. Jessie, then, penned an ode, of sorts, to Bill, "Our Poster Child for Bureaucratic Public Service".

Wordbones follows up on some Tower/height limit talk and gets the commenters going, while a letter to the editor in the Sun says "[i]t is time to stop the public debate and move on with the project."

Finally, there will soon be a bunch of new shots up on the photo blog.

And, that's it.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Pleased to meet you...

Attention OMers...

Come on out and meet your neighbors at the Community Connections Gathering next Wednesday, June 27 from 5:30 pm to 7:30 pm at the Fire Rock Grill.

Here's the official announcement:

OMCA Community Connections Gathering
@ Fire Rock Grill
Wednesday, June 27, 2007: 5:30pm – 7:30 pm

Come and check it out and join us at the Community Connection Gathering! Here’s how it works…you come and hang out in the lounge at the Fire Rock Grill. Get a little nosh and some drink, and connect with your neighbors, village leaders (both formal and informal), county leadership, and CA leadership and program folks. Learn about what’s going on in the village, share your ideas, hear about other folks’ ideas, and generally be in community without attending a single committee meeting and without anybody signing you up for anything! Easy, fun, and delicious! Bring yourself and a few bucks to buy something to drink and eat!

I'll be there. How about you?

Waiting for tonight...

I'm a little concerned about tonight.

The application for our deck is going before the Oakland Mills RAC and since it is a rather, um, ambitious plan, I'm nervous about whether it will be approved. At least I know my neighbors like the plans -- or so they say.

Anyway, in case you missed it earlier, a copy of the WAMU segment about Columbia from today is available here. I listened to most of it at work and, as always, enjoyed hearing Bob Tennenbaum talk about Columbia. Give it a listen and let me know what you think.

Make me wanna holler...

For various reasons, I’m trying to give up bickering about matters Columbia during our 40 days of lent celebration. We’ve had enough discord over the last couple years and since the one thing we all agree on is that Columbia’s Awesome, let’s just focus on that.

…But then that nagging voice in the back of my head starts acting up and I can’t help but say something…

Namely, vibrancy:

The vibrancy of the lakefront during Lakefest was great – everyone seemed to have a ball. The stark contrast between Lakefest and the rest of the year, I think, speaks to the need to create an environment where such vibrancy can thrive without constant efforts to introduce it.

Let’s not take our status as a planned city too far. We should be able to have fun without always creating committees to coordinate it.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

What's the frequency, Kenneth?

A commenter and Bill Santos have already mentioned it, but what's a little repetition among friends?

Columbia will be the topic of conversation tomorrow at noon on the Kojo Nnambdi Show on 88.5 FM WAMU. Here's the official billing:

A Planned Community Turns 40: Columbia, MD

It was a radical social experiment in the era of Jim Crow laws: to create a planned community in rural Maryland that would welcome people of any race, class or religion. Forty years later, the town of Columbia is now home to 100,000 people. We look at what's worked, what hasn't, and what's next for one of America's most idealistic suburbs.


Joe Mitchell, Co-author, "New City Upon a Hill: A History of Columbia, Maryland"

Ken Ulman, Howard County Executive

Bob Tennenbaum, Former chief architect of Columbia; Director, Real Estate Development, University of Maryland, Baltimore

Sounds interesting, no? I expect to hear at least a few familiar voices calling in.

If you can't listen live (or stream it on the internet), it looks like there will be an archive of the show available shortly after it airs. See the WAMU website for more.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

I said why don't we get together and call ourselves an institute…

Have you read the draft reports from the Commission on the Environment and Sustainabilty? Is there something you think we're forgetting or don't go far enough promoting? Or, do you think we're going too far or pushing the wrong thing all together?

Well, here's your chance to make your voice heard:

Howard County should consider creating an independent Environment Department — or opt for an office or perhaps a coordinator to tackle environmental issues.

These options are aimed at organizing Howard's green effort, according to a report from the governance committee of the county's Commission on the Environment and Sustainability.

The governance committee that handles providing a structure to address environmental issues is one of six groups that presented suggestions for how Howard can become more environmentally friendly by focusing on education and outreach, air and water quality, energy, green building and development, and open space and land preservation.

"They took stabs at solutions," Commission Executive Director Joshua Feldmark said.

Now residents can offer their thoughts on any environmental issues and feedback on the reports during several public hearings.

The commission is "taking a combination of the draft proposals and what we hear in the dialogue sessions and turning them into full-fledged recommendations," Feldmark said.
As mentioned before on this blog, these are the dates for the dialogue sessions:
  • 7 p.m. Thursday, June 21 at Glenwood Library
  • 10 a.m. Saturday, June 23 at Elkridge Library
  • 7 p.m. Monday, June 25 at East Columbia Library
  • 7 p.m. Thursday, June 28 at Miller Library
  • 7 p.m. Monday, July 2 at Central Library
Somehow (the promise of donuts, perhaps?), I got roped into attending the Saturday morning session, in addition to the two at Columbia's libraries.

Come on everybody, wear your rollerskates today...

I have to admit that the idea for this post came from a coworker (yes, people I work with read the blogs) and given my recent criticism of the Examiner I debated whether I should pile on, but it's just too easy.

Here, with appropriate bolding, is the latest reason to fear for the safety of our (well, your) children:

Roller shoes are the craze among kids but involve great risk without proper protection.

Local hospitals, including the University of Maryland Hospital for Children and Howard County General Hospital, haven't seen many cases in their emergency rooms. In fact, Sinai Hospital hasn't seen any cases.

Dr. Richard Lichenstein, director of pediatrics in the emergency room at the University of Maryland Hospital for Children, has seen a few cases, but nothing major. While he's seen mainly scrapes and bruises, colleagues have seen head injuries, he said.

"If you [the parents] really are observant, prudent and observe its use … [you] can prevent a trip to the ER," he said.

Dr. Jackson Tsai, a pediatrician at Howard County General Hospital, also hasn't seen many cases. He has seen bumps and scratches, as well as wrist and elbow injuries. Roller shoes aren't as damaging as skateboards, he said, but that doesn't mean proper protection should be forgotten when wearing the shoes.

He recommends protective gear and also attributes the lack of protective gear worn by children to their parents. He is "not a fan for [the shoes]."

Neither are shopping malls, which have started to ban the shoes, Lichenstein said.

"They are so fun, but can be so dangerous," he said.
The evidence presented doesn't really support the claim in the opening sentence. Sure, roller shoes can cause accidents, but "great risk" seems like a sensationalistic overstatement, which are unfortunately not uncommon in the Examiner. As a new(ish) paper competing with the hegemonic Sun, I understand the desire to attract readers with eye-grabbing headlines and ledes, but one hopes just as much emphasis would be put on attracting those looking for substance, too.

Dropping science like Galileo dropped the orange...

Since science has been a hot topic on the local blogs recently, I wonder if some would like to weigh in on this:

The majority of Republicans in the United States do not believe the theory of evolution is true and do not believe that humans evolved over millions of years from less advanced forms of life. This suggests that when three Republican presidential candidates at a May debate stated they did not believe in evolution, they were generally in sync with the bulk of the rank-and-file Republicans whose nomination they are seeking to obtain.
I don't want to turn this post into a party- or religion-bashing, er, bash, but I'm generally curious how others feel about this, particularly Republicans who express such concern for scientific rigor when it comes to other subjects, like, oh, I don't know, climate change.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Who do you think you're watching...

The Sun asked readers last week to weigh in on Wegmans, and predictably, we get a mix of views. I say this is predictable because that what the Sun wants: a range of views. But wouldn't Speak Out be a more effective feature if instead of including representative samples of the various opinions on a subject, they actually told us how the letters were divided among the varying positions. In some cases this wouldn't be possible (i.e. describe your vision for Town Center), but in this case (is Wegmans good or bad), it's entirely appropriate. Just a thought.

Why don't the newscasters cry...

After a week of arguments, I am in full agreement with David Keelan that this is terrible news.

A Howard County police officer died early this morning from injuries he sustained after he was struck by a car he tried to pull over for speeding Saturday afternoon, authorities said.

Howard police said Pfc. Scott Wheeler, a 6 1/2-year veteran, was working a speed enforcement detail on Route 32 near U.S. 1 when he and two other officers tried to stop a Nissan Sentra about 2 p.m. Police said the car's driver was suspected of speeding.

Wheeler was standing in the road to flag down cars that other officers using radar flagged for a traffic infraction. Investigators believe the driver -- a 24-year-old woman whose name was not released -- did not see Wheeler before he was struck. Charges against the driver have not been filed.

Wheeler suffered "significant head trauma," and was flown to Maryland Shock Trauma Center for treatment, where he was until he died today.

The officer was married in September and worked night shifts in the county's southern police district, based in Laurel. He was named Howard County's Police Officer of the Month in December 2002, in part for thwarting an armed robbery at a restaurant in Columbia.
Though I don't know for sure, I would guess the justification behind this type of traffic enforcement, which seems to have become more common in the past few years, is that you can ticket more speeders with significantly less effort and in a shorter amount of time than pulling them over one-by-one in cruisers, but such gains clearly come at the expense of officer safety.

Now is the time for mourning. But soon the time will come to reexamine the practice that lead to this tragedy.

Wheeler's death follows a few weeks of ego-fueled, voyeuristic stories and "because we can" public information requests and disclosures from the Examiner about government salaries, with a focus on police salaries and overtime compensation. See today's particularly poorly-timed piece, for instance. It's easy for such people to be critical of public spending in the abstract, from the comfort of their desks, but they would do well to remember who's really protecting the public.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Where in the world is...

So, I had this totally awesome post that I was going to write last night. In it, I planned to offer an all-encompassing solution to the problems in Howard County – downtown Columbia, traffic, transit, the environment, affordable housing, too many chain restaurants, you name it. But, then, that wicked thunderstorm moved through and knocked out my internet.

Rather than work on the post offline, I decided to watch a river flow through my backyard. This proved to be a bad decision, as I completely forgot what I had planned to write. So I went for a walk while the storm was winding down and here’s what I saw:

If you read this at work and your employer blocks videos (like mine), here's a picture.

(Sorry for the blurriness, but you get the general idea.)

He do the funky scratching...

There are so many head-scratchers in this week’s Flier that I think I’ve done permanent damage to my scalp.

First, as you know, the Planning Board voted against the proposed height limits for Town Center. As I said, I don’t think this vote changes the debate or the likely course of events in anyway (it may, however, change the retrospective written years from now, but who’s talking about years from now?).

What we know now is that some people don’t like the board’s decision, as evidenced by three letters to the editor. One of the head-scratching letters purports to know facts about the Tower and WCI (the developer) that only someone on the “inside” would likely know – for instance, buyers backing out of contracts because of delays, nervous lenders and a determination of the profitability of a different building configuration.

Are these statements – worded as authoritatively as they are – based on anything more than conjecture?

Also worthy of a “Wha?” are some of the quotes from our council members, who will soon be forced to take a decision on the height limits. Note the “Wha?” is a funny “Wha?” and not a critical “Wha?” I find it hard to believe they don’t know all of the details of the situation and also that they haven’t made up their minds yet. They just don’t want to tell us anything, which is fine. I like surprises.

At least the Flier’s editors weigh in with some good sense.

Also, the story about the green building legislation had a funny juxtaposition: council members expressed concern for the bill’s implications for the business community, while builders are all for it. I also haven’t heard any big complaints from citizens about it.

This unlikely convergence, naturally, makes me think of Ghostbusters:

Dr. Peter Venkman: This city is headed for a disaster of biblical proportions.
Mayor: What do you mean, "biblical"?
Dr Ray Stantz: What he means is Old Testament, Mr. Mayor, real wrath-of-God type stuff.
Dr. Peter Venkman: Exactly.
Dr Ray Stantz: Fire and brimstone coming down from the skies. Rivers and seas boiling.
Dr. Egon Spengler: Forty years of darkness. Earthquakes, volcanoes...
Winston Zeddemore: The dead rising from the grave.
Dr. Peter Venkman: Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together - mass hysteria.


Speaking of green, the dates for the environmental commission dialogue sessions have changed. Here are the correct ones:

Thursday, June 21, 7 pm @ Glenwood
Saturday, June 23, 10 am @ Elkridge
Monday, June 25, 7 pm @ East Columbia
Thursday, June 28, 7 pm @ Miller
Monday, July 2, 7 pm @ Central

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Do you want to know a secret...

For somebody who likes to share some of the most inconsequential details about his life with a bunch of random readers over the internet, I’ve been awfully reticent about something that’s been taking up a lot of my time recently.

I’m talking, of course, about my Wii. Yes, what started as a simple gift to myself for losing my first election has now blossomed into a full-blown obsession. I’ve already achieved pro status in Tennis and Bowling and am well on may way to becoming a Baseball pro, too (if only I could get that darn screwball to, er, screw).

Oh, all right, I’m just kidding (not about my pro status – I’m dead serious about that).

I’m actually talking about the county’s Commission on the Environment and Sustainability, to which I was appointed way back in February. For the first couple months, we met twice-monthly as a full group, but beginning in late April, the 21-member committee (not including those who are ex-officio) split into six subcommittees in order to focus our discussions on specific subject areas. Naturally, being a chronic volunteer, I signed up for two committees – Open Space and Land Management, and Green Building and Development.

And after many meetings over the last month-and-a-half, the commission finally has something to show for its work: draft committee reports! (see right sidebar.)

Although of interest to the wonky-few, the release of these draft reports is certain to be overshadowed by today’s announcement of new green building legislation.

Howard County Executive Ken Ulman announced today a package of environmental legislation that he said will begin transforming buildings and residential developments in the county.

The three bills, to be introduced before the County Council in July, would require builders of any structure 20,000-square-feet or larger to meet minimum standards set by the Leadership in Energy Environmental Design (LEED).

In addition, the county would offer commercial developers property tax breaks of up to 75 percent for five years, depending on the environmental features a building has.

A second bill would require all government buildings that use 30 percent or more county funds, to meet a "silver" LEED standard. The law would not include school buildings, though Ulman said he would "strongly encourage" school officials to comply.

LEED standards use a point system to evaluate features that increase a building's environmental friendliness. A building can meet a basic standard, or go to silver, gold or platinum.

A third measure would encourage residential builders to design more environmentally friendly home developments. It would allow builders all over the county quicker permission to build if they use the techniques that limit energy use and water runoff, among others.

Ulman would do this by slowing development in the rural western county by 100 units a year and allowing builders all over the county to compete for those housing allocations. Howard allows no more than 1,850 new home allocations annually countywide, including 250 in the western county.
(I’ve got to hand it to Larry Carson here. The time-stamp on this article is 11:37 am, only a few hours after the morning announcement. One can’t help but wonder, however, if the presence of a blogger in the room had anything to do with his quick report. I like to think so, but I also like to dwell on my own sense of self-importance.)

As a member of the green building subcommittee, I was fortunate enough to see this legislation while it was still in draft form and was given an opportunity to provide feedback and suggest changes. But if you’ve got any problems with it, please address your concerns to the commission’s executive director.

In all seriousness, what do you think about the proposal? Most of the committee members agreed that we needed a balance of mandates and incentives, which I think we achieved with mandatory LEED Certification as the floor and LEED Platinum (and a 75 percent tax break) as the ceiling.

What’s more, the annual transition of 100 units from the west to the east as an incentive for green residential neighborhoods is very welcome. I know this won’t ultimately limit total development in the west, but it will slow it down some, perhaps giving the county more opportunities to buy easements, and it will foster better development practices in the county’s eastern half. Win-win, unless you’re a developer waiting for allocations in the west.

Also of note is the schedule for the commission’s public dialogue sessions. I can’t find it online yet, but here is what we were told today:
  • Thursday, June 21, 7 pm, Glenwood Library
  • Saturday, June 23, 11 am, Savage Library
  • Monday, June 25, 7 pm, Central Library
  • Wednesday, June 27, 7 pm, Miller Library
  • Thursday, June 28, 7 pm, East Columbia Library

Monday, June 11, 2007

Everybody's working for the weekend...

Just a few random thoughts from the past weekend...

I went to comedy night at the Fire Rock Grill on Thursday, and while I know many of you probably think I'm just an OM-homer, it was hilarious. Both Abbzug and I went in with not-very-high expectations, especially for the local comics, but to our delight, our hesitation was unfounded. The local guys who opened the night delivered, particularly when they turned their focus to Columbia and our funny street names (there was one involving Gandalf and an unmentionable region of the body that actually made me cry). You should do yourself a favor and check it out some Thursday, but if you pay full price, prepare to be the butt of jokes. More info (hint, hint) here.

On Friday, my dad and I played a round of golf at Hobbit's Glen -- yes, the hottest day of the year so far. Which figures. Nothing much to report about that, except for my beautiful and first-ever birdie (after playing golf somewhat regularly for nearly 20 years). Yeah, I'm probably ready to go on tour.

Saturday = housework. Nothing like cleaning fish poop off your filter. Woo-hoo!

On Sunday, I finally made my first pilgrimage to the Boxes on the Hill (Gateway Overlook). See:

I was very under-whelmed with the new Best Buy. I thought it would be bigger or nicer or something-er. But it was just Best Buy...with a slightly different layout. Ho, hum.

I think this is the new Costco. Don't they know natural light is frowned upon in retail?

Yay, machines!

Yeah, soon-to-be Lowe's!

Here's hoping the center's designers learned from their utter failure (traffic-wise, at least) at Columbia Crossing.

Finally, I made it over to Lakefest for a bit Sunday afternoon. Here's the proof, minus the sarcasm.

I don't believe in Kennedy...

"I don’t believe in global warming."

After a few tedious experiences, I've tried to avoid "global warming" discussions on this blog. There are much smarter people than I already fighting the good fight -- that is, explaining to fact-deficient people why their hunches and beliefs may not be entirely accurate.

But David Keelan's latest declaration leaves me with several unanswered questions. And even though I know global warming per se isn't the topic of his post -- that would be the bugaboo of economic gains some are deriving from the new opportunities present in the market (which is ironic considering just a couple years ago the main argument against action on the climate change front was that it would devastate our economy, but just as goalposts move, I digress) -- I still feel his first statement needs challenging.

Taken at face value, I can appreciate the mindset of one who doesn't believe in "global warming." I have some doubts myself, especially considering one of the most dire possibilities of human-induced climate change is an ice age for most of Europe. Wha?

Because higher concentrations won't lead to uniformly warmer temperatures across the globe, some people, like myself, prefer to use the term "climate change," which accounts for the myriad scenarios and ensures that whenever we get an early fall cold snap, dummies won't go around saying "huh, so much for global warming *guffaw, guffaw*."

But I don't think this is what he's going for.

Which leads me to ask, what does he mean? Is it that he doesn't believe humans release carbon into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels? Or maybe he doesn't believe that this carbon stays in the atmosphere as long as others say it does? Or does he not believe that we release enough carbon to bring about non-trivial change in its concentration in the atmosphere? Does he not believe the polar ice cores that tell us atmospheric carbon concentrations are at their highest point in the last 800,000 years or that models that indicate it is higher than it's been in the last 20 million years? Or, maybe he doesn't believe carbon actually traps heat (is a greenhouse gas)?

Perhaps he doesn't believe the model predictions put about by the UN and others about the potential impacts of increasing carbon in the atmosphere. If so, that's fine, I guess. But I'd love to see his models or know exactly what assumptions the scientists are making that he disagrees with.

Maybe he just means that fundamentally altering the concentration of the atmosphere -- of somewhat importance to all of human existence -- isn't a big deal. After all, volcanoes do it, why can't we?

I'm sorry, but at this point those who continue to brush aside the issue of climate change are dooming themselves. This is not to say we should not have vigorous debates about what the impacts of greater atmospheric concentrations of carbon will be or continue to challenge the scientists to learn more about the complex blanket of air the makes life possible. But this "oh, little old us, we're so small and the world's so big" mindset has taken willful ignorance to a whole new level.

I honestly believe Keelan is a smart guy and is, as he says, an environmentalist. But if he really wants to make a difference, he shouldn't be buying a hybrid or changing his light bulbs; he should be educating himself on something other than internet agitprop and talk radio.

There beneath the blue suburban skies...

A couple thoughts on the Planning Board’s recent votes against the height limits

Is it really a surprise that the board which approved the Tower in the first place voted against a piece of legislation meant to stop it?

Since the height limits will go before the council anyway (and council members, presumably, will do whatever they want, regardless of the Planning Board’s advice), the sole result of this whole process is that it generated more fodder for those who are already predisposed to distrusting the Planning Board.

Oh, well, at least FreeMarket isn't upset.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Before you can rise from the ashes, you've got to burn, baby, burn...

This time, it’s for real.

We haven’t had a Round Up around here in a while, and with summer’s onset slowing things down a bit, now seems like a perfect time to lasso some news.

More Wegmans: The Sun describes the thinking of county zoning and legal officials that opened the door for the mega-grocer to locate in Columbia’s sought-after Snobbin Shopping District. It’s interesting, if a bit wonky. What’s of more interest to me are the quotes from County Executive Ken Ulman and others about the future of our village centers.

County Executive Ken Ulman said, "Even without Wegmans, I have concerns about the future of some of the village centers. The problem is more about people's changed shopping habits."

Ulman said the county "needs to create zoning that allows the village centers to evolve. They may be different, with more residential, recreation, convenience retail."

The Giant Food store in Wilde Lake closed last year without a Wegmans on the scene, McLaughlin pointed out. "Ignoring the market doesn't make things any better," she said.

At the same time, she said, she is concerned about Columbia's village centers. "There are a variety of new players in the grocery market. Recognizing current realities is more realistic than acting like the world is the same as when the village centers were first built."
I got into some of this in Monday’s post about Wegmans, while the no-longer-anonymous-but-still-pseudonymous Wordbones tackled the subject in April with much greater acumen.

Going home again: I’ll leave aside my griping about the county's affordable housing lottery system and just say that this is a great story:
As Howard County officials prepare to choose buyers for two heavily discounted new garage townhouses today, Patricia Tolson still is trying to get used to her good fortune.

Tolson's name was chosen at random from among 28 qualified applicants for the right to pay $200,000 for a 42 percent share of a large, renovated home on Columbia's Pamplona Road -- the same street where she grew up and where she and her 14-year old son, Anthony, have been living with her parents.

"Is it for real then?" the 35-year-old former soldier said Monday, describing her reaction to winning the housing lottery.

"I wake up every day and say, 'Mom, was it a dream?' I'm trying to explain to my son that it's not free. I have to pay for it."

Wow! And not only do her parents live there, two of her brothers also own houses on the same street. Occurrences like this make it impossible for me to not believe in some great big cosmic something or other (yeah, that’s a vague, cumbersome sentence, but it’s as much as you’ll get from me on matters of faith).

My house backs (sort of) to Pamplona and I’ve seen Anthony around a bunch. He stops by on occasion to play with the Mutt and was a regular – along with myself – on the local sledding hill. I’m glad to see he and his mom will be able to stay in Columbia.

Where's the party at: The 40-day Columbia party really gets kicking this weekend, with a lot of free music, entertainment and other activities beginning tomorrow night as part of the Festival of the Arts’ Lakefest. Pyromaniacs can also join the fun as fireworks are scheduled for both Friday and Saturday nights (woo-hoo!). See here for more information on Lakefest and here for a schedule of Festival of the Arts events.

And for those of you with Columbia stories to share, the Archives and Library are collecting oral histories from residents on both Saturday and Sunday.

Finally, while organizers seem upbeat, there is a wrinkle that might prevent the City Fair from going off as planned. Apparently, the carnies amusement technicians are without a place to park their trailers and rest their head during the weekend of the fair, June 29 to July 1. Organizers and county officials are working on it and a solution seems likely, but if a suitable site isn’t found, we could be looking at the biggest birthday let-down since 1980, when I was to receive a puppy from Grandpa but Mom put the kibosh on it, thereby leaving me incomplete until late 1999 with the arrival of the Mutt (an early Christmas present from, of all people, Mom, who had no qualms about me raising a puppy outside of her house).

That's it for now. Let's hope my shed (PDF) gets approved tonight! Also, don't forget, every Thursday is comedy night at the Fire Rock Grill. Assuming it doesn't take all night to approve the shed, I'll be there for at least a little while.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

I would like you to dance...

Some random, assorted thoughts (a Round Up, perhaps?)...

Columbia's 40th birthday is getting a lot of play in the local media. On Sunday, the Sun gave us this article about the more-than-a-month-long party and this one about the Spear Center in the old Rouse HQ. Meanwhile, the Examiner drops two long stories today about our fair city. And last Thursday, the Flier did it's part with an overview and a calendar of birthday events.

Of course, the bloggers are not without comments of their own. Dan Beyers discusses the Spear Center story and sees a possible return to a kinder, gentler development overlord, while Hometown Jessie's a little tired of the same old, same old.

But as someone who's been known to stretch birthday celebrations beyond reasonable limits, I'll just keep my mouth shut and focus on the approaching start to my own birthday season.

Thanks to a little help from others, the online Columbia pathway map is making good progress. Dan's now looking for photos of various points along the paths to include on the map, one of the great attributes of the Google Maps system. I have tons of pathway pictures to share, which I'll add just as soon as I finish playing with my new favorite Google toy...

Sketch Up. I spent a few (well, several) hours with this program Sunday night creating a drawing of our potential deck for inclusion with our application to the Oakland Mills RAC. It took about an hour to get comfortable with the controls and features, but once past the learning phase, working with the program was a cinch.

I really think this could be of great use to Columbia homeowners trying to get approval for home improvement projects. More broadly, anyone interested in making changes to their house or yard will likely find Sketch Up an invaluable tool to help visualize projects before putting shovel to dirt. And, like most Google applications, it's free!

To give you a sense of what the program can do without ruining the surprise, here's the "before" sketch of my house.

Pretty cool, huh?

It's as simple as something that nobody knows...

From the Department of Common Sense:

After going without any takers for five years, Howard County's agricultural preservation program has succeeded in enticing three farmers to participate by doubling the maximum per-acre price.

Calvin Murray, 83, whose family has farmed in Howard County for generations, will sell the development rights on 166.3 acres to the county for $40,000 an acre - twice as much as he could have gotten last year. His parents bought the Mount Airy-area farm he lives on for $75 an acre in 1919, he said.

Two other farms are ready to join Howard's agricultural preservation program - one of 60 acres in West Friendship near the County Fairgrounds and another of 35 acres on Route 94 in Woodbine.

The county raises its rates to compete with developers and landowners finally start to bite. But, of course, life is dynamic:

Even now, developers will pay $60,000 or $70,000 an acre, Murray said.

It's going to go back and forth like this until all the parcels are spoken for (which is probably soon, so maybe it won't go back and forth at all anymore). The county is always going to rely on the non-economic benefits landowners derive from not selling their property in order to stay competitive, but this too will pass as farming becomes more of an anachronism and land is passed down to generations more adept at office work rather than farm work.

So it goes, I suppose.

Impending realities and my personal milieu aside, this was refreshing:
"I've never been to Columbia in my life, and I don't plan on going," [Murray] said, protesting that he wants no publicity.

Monday, June 04, 2007

I got the news...

After years of consideration and speculation, it appears that grocery store giant Wegmans is officially coming to Columbia.

A crack tipster alerted me to the fact that the mega-grocer has submitted a site development plan for the piece of property at the intersection of McGaw Road and Snowden River Parkway (across from Apple Ford and currently home to the warehouse where The Wire is filmed).

This move has been a topic of news stories and blog posts for a while, but nothing concrete has ever been put forth until now.

Yet unknown is the impact the new store will have on Columbia's village centers, many of which rely on anchor grocery stores to bring in customers.

Even after all these years of discussion, I still don't think I have a strong sense of the Wegmans ripple effect. Certainly, many people from all over Howard County (and other counties) will choose to shop there, but how often? Enough to seriously hurt the village center grocers?

What about the new Harris Teeter coming to Kings Contrivance? Though not as big as Wegmans, it appeals to a similar demographic and will likely also generate traffic from a wider area than just its village.

Let's assume Wegmans becomes the grocery store of choice for enough people that the village center grocery stores start to suffer and, eventually, close. What happens then? How do we ensure our village centers can stay solvent? Obviously, villages have dealt with or are dealing with grocery-store-loss, but it seems to me the thinking done in these instances was based on the idea that a grocery store would always be a component of the village centers. Perhaps we need to adjust that assumption.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Where the streets have no name...

Not content with just one site, Dan Beyers of Columbia Talk is making the rest of us bloggers look bad by starting a companion blog, Behind Columbia Talk, which he describes thusly:

This is a blog about blogging. Or more precisely, this is a blog about me trying to figure out what everyone under 30 already knows intuitively. Here is where I discuss my efforts to build an audience and navigate this brave new online world. I want to be as transparent as possible and I crave your help. Drop me a line at
Since I'm going to milk my under-30 status for as long as I can, I'll say that almost all of my non-HoCo news comes from blogs. But, for me at least, this was mostly a learned habit, and I think anyone, regardless of age and tech-savviness, can also learn to appreciate the value added by blogs. Of course, personal tastes will always dictate how much a person relies on blogs for news and information rather than traditional media.

Dan's first project on his new blog -- something he's looking for help with -- is creating an online map of Columbia's pathways, a process which is not without its share of "issues" (what else is new?).

If you're looking for something to do on this rainy, NASCAR-less Sunday, check out the project and see if there's something you can do to help.