Tuesday, November 25, 2008

And I don't know what went wrong. I feel I don't belong. I just keep moving on.

Hayduke died last night.

This probably isn't particularly surprising to you or the spam-bots that still occasionally troll this blog for free, if pointless, advertising opportunities. Hayduke's demise has been a long time coming, starting over a year ago when I decided it would behoove me to further my career goals rather than blather endlessly about stuff on the internet.

Still, even as distractions and other priorities took his place and the time between posts grew from days to weeks to months, Hayduke persevered, if only as a muted shell of his former self. Looking back, I probably should have made a clean break earlier, but I couldn't/didn't until last night, when, with the help of some Ikea furniture, I let go.

The vast majority of the words on this blog were written at this desk.



I bought it around the same time I started this blog in the fall of 2005. Incidentally, I also bought the iMac around the same time. Together, the desk and the computer made up the Hayduke Command Center, which, tucked into little corners/closets of our home offices (first in the Kings Contrivance apartment and later in our Oakland Mills house), made for a lovely blogging oasis.

I did some of my best work at this desk. Certainly, it witnessed my most exciting and energizing moments as a writer. (I know, exciting and energizing are not usually associated with the act of writing, but whatever, it's – still! – my blog, bitches.)

I know the desk itself – the combination of pre-fabbed pieces of particale board and those crazy screw thingies Ikea uses – was not the source of whatever blogging acumen I may have possessed. It is, however, a physical reminder of a piece of my life that I really enjoyed.

And last night, it fell to pieces…

…with the assistance of a screwdriver and a hex key.

Just as I ran out of room in my life for blogging, my house ran out of room for the desk. There's a baby on the way, and when you only have 844 square feet and two bedrooms' worth of house, a large desk and an office become a luxury you can no longer afford. Which is perfectly fine by me. I'm happier than a pig in poop about the baby.

Nevertheless, as the pieces of the desk were undone and stacked against the vacant walls of the nursery-to-be, I felt pangs of loss for what once was. Alas.

It was fun, Hayduke. Maybe we'll do it again sometime.

That's the extent of the mourning you'll hear from me. I've got a nursery to finish, a wife to dote on, a dog to run with, a job to keep up, and a show to prepare for (Friday night, Michael's Pub, 9 pm, Pine Flood's world premier!), among all the other stuff.

Finally, to everyone who took the time to read this ridiculous thing, thanks. I had great time talking with you and hope to again soon. If you're interested in keeping tabs on me, you can find me on Facebook, where I'm now posting silly pictures of the dog.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Everything is priced to move!

Screw you, rain. We're yard-selling anyway and doing pretty good so far.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Living just enough...

Curious sight from my recent trip to Virginia Beach: a not-too-shabby little town center area. Amidst the otherwise low-slung, sprawliness of the Tidewater area, this downtown area is home to several good restaurants, a comedy club, a fancy-pants performing arts center, a hopping night club and (gasp!) a very tall building.


One of the things that struck me most about the area was how easy it was to get in and out of by car while also being really welcoming to pedestrians.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Here comes the new boss...

What?

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

I don't want to wait in vain...

So, what better thing is there for me to do while waiting for my car to finish its check-up than go through ramdom photos on my phone and post them to the blog? Yes, I suppose I could watch a rerun of the hit CBS show NCIS with the other carless folks in this waiting room, but...um...no.


Here's a picture from my firat visit to Harris Teeter Saturday. For a guy who's written extensively about grocery stores, including a shameless love letter to Trader Joe's, you probably find it strange that it took me so long to visit Columbia's newest grocer. That's fine; I also find it strange.


Anyway, I share this photo only to point out the really thoughtful and really wasteful inclusion of a seperate heating system for the store that is dedicated to keeping shoppers comfortable in the frozen food aisles. Although it's certainly a nice touch, I can't decide if it's a step forward or a step back.

Some guys have all the luck...

Man, the Gateway building has awesome vending machines. No fair. All we -- the denizens of the Howard building -- have is a Coke machine that charges $0.75 for a $0.65 soda.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Over to the field for tackle football...

Woo-hoo! Football Day!

Seriously, good times, even though this may be the worst Ravens team of all time. On the bright side, I like to think that this is the year Ravens tickets become available and affordable again, but we'll see about that.

The big excitement about today's Ravens game is, of course, the debut of Mr. Ocho Cinco (the wide reciever formerly known as Chad Johnson). Say what you will about the guy, but I think his name change is probably the most brilliant thing an NFL player has ever done.

I mean, check out this shot from CBS's pre-game coverage and try not to laugh:


The guy's forcing everyone to this grammatical abberation of a joke seriously...awesome.

Bonus funny: Look at that picture...there's a ridicuolous caption in there somewhere, right? The closed eyes, Cowher's lips, the excessive lapel pins...it's all too much for me to process now. Perhaps during halftime...

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

I could not get enough...

Happy September! I was out driving around for work and found a little
piece of HoCo that I had never seen.

Here's a picture. Can you guess where I was?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Even rivers ask for rain...

Roads are pretty important to a lot of people.

This isn’t really insightful, but in light of this reality, you would expect a bit more care to be given to the design, not just engineering, of streets. Instead, we get what we’ve always gotten – generally safe and generally efficient thoroughfares for vehicular traffic.

Some folks think there’s more to streets than that, however. And as people often do when they share a desire for change, they’ve started a movement: Shared Space, which Wikipedia says is “the blurring or removal of the distinction between space designated for automobiles and space designated for pedestrians and bicycles.”

Here’s more on the concept from the Boston Globe:

The curb is a big enemy in the Shared Space philosophy, because the curb is a separator, dictating what belongs to the pedestrian and what belongs to the vehicle. There are other enemies as well: signs, lines on the road, even traffic lights. Pioneered by Dutch traffic engineer Hans Monderman, who died earlier this year at age 62, Shared Space gets the street naked, removes all physical and psychological barriers, and forces cars and pedestrians to share. The concept makes the street safe by making it dangerous to proceed without paying attention.

And more

For decades, our urban street system has focused almost exclusively on the efficient movement of cars. "When you walk down one of these European streets and see people walking, entire families riding bicycles together, people sitting outside having an evening drink, you think, 'This is the way a city should be,' " says Steven E. Miller, the executive director of the Healthy Weight Initiative in the nutrition department at the Harvard School of Public Health. He believes walkable streets will go a long way toward mending chronic health problems. "And you feel astounded that America hasn't caught on to that effect."

The whole thing is worth a read. Personally, I wouldn’t mind seeing a bit more of this around here.

Totally unrelated to Shared Space (or maybe not?), here’s something that popped out of the Way Back machine today:


Yeah. How about that? This is the third revision, published by HCCA in 1994. The original edition came out in 1972. I haven’t really had a chance to go through it yet, but I thought it was an interesting piece of HoCo community history. I'll let you know if I find anything fun in it.

Because the fairness doctrine compels me, here’s the playbook used by developers.


Saturday, August 09, 2008

Mother Nature got me thinking...

A couple issues that sprouted up in my little piece of Columbia got me thinking. Unfortunately, these thoughts haven't led me to any conclusions…just more thoughts.

So, I'm presenting these matters to the collective wisdom of the local Anonymouses in hopes that my own thoughts might start crystallizing.

First, there's the Walgreens. I'm not exactly sure where it is in the development process, but almost all of Oakland Mills seems to know of and have an opinion about it. For those who aren't in the know, the chain pharmacy is working to locate a new branch at the intersection of Rouse Parkway (Rt. 175) and Thunder Hill Road, a decidedly non-village center site.

That last bit presents a problem. We can argue about tall buildings, but one thing that's pretty clearly part of the "vision" of Columbia is that the life's essentials would be located in our village centers. I don't think I'm slavish in my devotion to founding principles, but when there's a struggling village center that currently has no place for residents to get the medicine they really need – that is, not the over the counter junk – it seems kind of strange to support construction of a pharmacy out on the village's fringe.

But pharmacies don't play that way anymore. Unless they're part of a grocery store, today's pharmacies follow the stand-alone, along-major-roadways model. I'm guessing they do this because it's proven to be successful, and whatever niceties might be said about providing access to medicine, it's still all about the money.

(And contrary to what some may think, Columbia was never intended to blunt market forces in favor of the common good or social gains. Indeed, its true genius was exploiting them to achieve social ends…but that's for a later post.)

Also I'm also sensitive to the fact that this location, as opposed to one in a village center, would be more convenient for some (ahem...) and less convenient for others. Which way the scales tip in this instance, I can't say.

The other undecided I have is with respect to the idea of a new bridge connecting Town Center to Oakland Mills and whether this bridge should serve people, bikes, buses, cars or all of the above. I've long been of the opinion that a bridge open to all vehicles and made safe for pedestrians is the best option for Oakland Mills but others have raised good points that have me rethinking my position. Whatever happens, the bridge must be safe (in all ways) and convenient before it sees significant usage. The bridge we have now doesn't fully meet these standards and I don't know if anything can be done to make it so.

What's more, a really well-designed bridge would give our city another defining piece of architecture, which we desperately need.

So there it is...my jumble of thoughts. 

How about you?

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Say they want you successful, but that ain't the case…

Because I feel like griping…

First: There will be no shortage of discussions about race over the next few months, a fact that, depending on your perspective, will be most welcome or entirely aggravating (or possibly in between, but not likely). It doesn't matter to me where you fall on the spectrum – as I'm sure it doesn't matter to you where I fall – but what does matter to me is that we come together as a nation to accomplish one thing: the abolition of the term "race card" (as in, "to play the") from our vernacular.

Not only does it trivialize legitimate concerns about racism (you mean it still exists?), but using it makes you sound like, well, a Not Very Bright Person, regardless of whether you use it "correctly" – that is, in response to a spurious claim of racism. Here's a tip: If you find yourself in a discussion about race in America where someone points out that a particular thing is racist – say, a political advertisement involving a certain candidate for President of the United States and a couple of blond-haired, white "celebrity" women – and you disagree with this person, you should state your disagreement in such a way that actually demonstrates the falsity of their claim. If it is indeed a spurious point, refuting it shouldn't be too hard, now should it?

As a corollary, just because a particular thing – say, the above-mentioned advertisement – doesn't bring out the inner racist in you that doesn't mean it isn't bringing out the inner racist in others. You know, kind of like how you can't hear a dog whistle but a dog can.

Second: Office 2007. Seriously, Microsoft, why did you destroy the one thing you did really, really well? This new version of Office is an abomination -- over the top graphic interface, confusing menus, general navigation issues, auto formatting from hell, etc. -- and it has me longing for the good, old days of Office 2003 (and I hate longing). But, hey, thanks for including a "blog post" template in Word. Progress!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

I'm afraid that all the pieces might slip away from me...

Good vs. Bad: A breakdown...


Good: Pandora for the iPhone. I realized in all my praise for the iPhone a little while back that I didn't really say much about what really makes it awesome: Applications, for one. I'll probably write about a few others that I like, but for now I want to highlight Pandora, which, if you don't know, is some free internet radio goodness. Basically, you create "stations" of bands you like and Pandora plays songs that match your taste. It's a great way to find new music that you might actually like...as opposed to whatever's on the radio.

Bad: One Hundred Pushups. This site claims that if you follow its six week program you'll be able to do 100 pushups. I did it, all six weeks without cheating, and I'm here to tell you what you already know: Don't believe what you read on the internet. When I started the program, I was able to do 50 pushups. After finishing the last level over the weekend, I did the exhaustion test last night and logged exactly 53 pushups. Yay, progress!

Good: Apple technical support. I've had two problems over the past couple weeks and both were solved super quickly by Apple. 

Bad: The fact that I needed Apple technical support twice over the past two weeks. After I upgraded operating systems (Tiger to Leopard, for those of you playing along at home), my laptop's battery decided to lose about half of its capacity, which is pretty lame. I called Apple on Saturday, however, and a brand new battery arrived at my door on Monday, which is pretty good. The other issue had to do with an activation code that wasn't working, which may have partially been my fault but nevertheless these things should "just work," right?

(In fairness, these two problems are not bad considering the amount of computer-related upgrades involving Apple products I've done in the past month, nearly all of which have gone very smoothly, including the construction of a pretty sweet wireless network/home server.)

Good: Grand slams and the Orioles beating the Yankees.

Bad: "Competition yellows" during NASCAR races.

Good: MG Midgets for sale in Columbia.

Bad: MG Midgets for sale in Columbia tempting me.

Friday, July 25, 2008

My greatest fear will be that you will crash and burn...

A couple of possibly competing data points about newspapers.

First, The Sun shared news recently of another reduction in local coverage. A daily feature just a few years ago, the Howard Section will now come out on Thursdays and Sundays only. Whether this results in an actual decrease in local stories or simply a consolidation of the same amount of stories on fewer days remains to be seen, but I'd put money on the latter in the short term and the former in the long term.

Meanwhile, the Pew Research Center just released a report detailing cutbacks at newspapers.

It has fewer pages than three years ago, the paper stock is thinner, and the stories are shorter. There is less foreign and national news, less space devoted to science, the arts, features and a range of specialized subjects. Business coverage is either packaged in an increasingly thin stand-alone section or collapsed into another part of the paper. The crossword puzzle has shrunk, the TV listings and stock tables may have disappeared, but coverage of some local issues has strengthened and investigative reporting remains highly valued.
So, according to the smart folks at Pew, while the rest of the paper withers, the local sections seem to be doing fine, if not better, yet, our local rag is cutting back on space for local news. What gives?

I actually don't think these are contradictory as they may seem. With so many options for consuming news on the big issues, consumers have turned to other outlets-- blogs, television, crazy emails from their grandparents, etc. In trying to find their niche in this changing landscape, newspapers, on average, have started devoting a greater share of their resources to local news, where the array of available options for consumers is considerably smaller; this is the transformation noted in Pew's study.

But even in this less competitive market, papers are finding it difficult to stay profitable because they're still relying on essentially the same model that's been used for decades, one that has largely failed to adapt to changing consumer preferences and technology. Traditional news organizations were painfully slow to embrace the internet, and even now that most have caught on to its permanence, they are stuck trying to play catch up in a game that's on a completely different field. In many cases, "tech-savvy" newspapers are still operating in the same paradigm, doing what they've always done, only digitally, which probably isn't going to cut it for much longer.

However, as long as people value information and their time, there will always be money to be made delivering news, whether local, regional, national or international. I'll leave it up to the smart people to figure out how.

Monday, July 21, 2008

...quoting things you'd never say...

One billboard; two sides.








Friday, July 18, 2008

Whiskers on kittens...

My favorite shot from GGP's "Vision" open house.

I've been sitting waiting wishing...

Nothing but good reviews for the MVA Express in Columbia. I was in an out in under 10 minutes for a license renewal and didn't even get a chance to play poker on my phone.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Loving you is easy 'cause you're beautiful...

Yes, I got an iPhone.


Yes, it's all I had hoped for and more.

And, yes, I stood in line for several hours to get it.

But... I did not wait in line on Friday like all those other losers, those saps who had to have it the day it came out. No, me, I'm patient and not one to buy into manufactured hype. 

Yes, I got mine on Saturday, when waiting was no longer an exercise in crass commercial worship carried out by blind fanboys but instead simply a function of the prevailing reality that iPhones are awesome and a lot of people want them.

Yes, I know I'm kidding no one with this. But, seriously, it's awesome.

And, please, don't be like those ignoramuses (ignorami) who strolled by the line Saturday morning and couldn't resist cracking wise about how "it's just a phone." Because it's not "just a phone," and if you think it is, you're probably not very bright.

I don't think it's hyperbole to say the iPhone is arguably the greatest "gadget" ever conceived. It is all those old sci-fi pipe dreams rolled into a shiny glass and plastic package that is as easy to use as it is on the eyes.

OK, maybe I'm being a little to effusive -- it wouldn't be the first time -- but I'm in iPhone heaven right now, and I can't help it. I mean, even Abbzug, who generally hates gadgets, won't put hers down.

Now, if only I could figure out a way to take it swimming with me. 

Yes, I've gone too far.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Goin' each and every place with the mic in their hand...

SC, Maryland, New Orleans, Motown...

How about a little Hump Day Round Up…

All Merriweather, all the time: Wordbones' off-line alter ego wrote a nice column for the July edition of the Business Monthly about the Little Ampetheater (and Community Movement) That Could. I don't really have anything to add, but like WB, I'm glad he got this one wrong.


More Merriweather: My off-line alter ego also has a piece about Merriweather running in a local publication. Here's the cover story from the summer edition of Howard Life magazine.

Still more: I was feeling a little blah about this season's line up for Merriweather. Don't get me wrong, I love brooding, wannabe guitar heroes as much as the next 16-year-old girl, but John Mayer just isn't doing it for me this year. But two recent concert announcements have turned my blah into… uh, blazam? First, Rock the Bells, a tour of hip hop heavyweights, on July 27 and second, The Allman Brothers on September 30. They still don't totally make up for the lack of Jack Johnson – stupid Virgin Fest – but I'm happy.

As for non-Merriweather stuff, it's just this: Good riddance, Pooh Bears!


Devotees will tell you that Padonia Swim Club is more than just a place to go swimming. For some, it is where they got their first job, sent their kids to day camp, paddled on the pond, sparked summer romances, got married and sipped cocktails at the cabana bar.

So when the 49-year-old club announced that it was selling the Cockeysville property to a church and shutting down operations - albeit in fall 2010 at the earliest - the news hit members like an afternoon thunderstorm after a cloudless morning.


Padonia was the arch rival of my childhood swim team. They won every single meet for something like 73 years… until they ran into the buzzsaw that was the Crofton Swim and Tennis Club in the mid-1980s.

Yeah, that's right, I'm still living a 20-year-old rivalry. And, yes, sometimes I embarrass myself.

(Although I just saw this story today, thoughts of childhood swim meets have resurfaced recently thanks to my re-adoption of swimming as a preferred method of cardiovascular activity and the airing of the Olympic trials [in HD!] on television.)

Yeehaw!

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

But no one taught that to me yet...

A couple of things on this lovely Canada Day...

First, I had an awesome time playing at the Oakland Mills Birthday Party on Saturday. Thanks to those of you who braved the heat and the rain to come out, including Wordbones, who posted a pic of The Fab Five. There are also a couple short videos of the affair somewhere on the internet, but I'll hold off on posting a link until I have the videographer's OK.

For those of you who missed it: Don't worry. There's a movement afoot to keep this little experiment going at least a little while longer. I'm interested to see what we can do with a wider song selection and more than a month to practice.

Second, a question. Is it legal to ride your bike on the sidewalk in Howard County?

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Everybody had a good time...

You know what you should do if you want to have a good time?

No.

Well, I’ll tell you. You should come to OM Fest on Saturday in Oakland Mills to celebrate the village’s 40th birthday and, of course, to hear what could either be a pretty good set of Beatles music or an outright embarrassment for yours truly. Either way, it’s a win for you!

Can I market or what?

Seriously, after our first practice late last month, I was a little nervous about the set. But after practicing to the point of exhaustion many nights in the past few weeks, I really think (or at least hope) it’s going to sound good.

Despite all the time spent practicing, I think the hardest part of this whole thing was picking an hour’s worth of music from the vast Beatles collection. Complicating this process is trying to balance what songs I want to play, what songs the audience will want to hear and what songs a band with two guitars, a bass and drums can actually pull off in a live setting. It was not easy, but I think we’ve got a pretty good set.

That said, I won’t try to claim that my taste in Beatles songs in any way resemble mainstream tastes.

You see, I’m a huge Beatles fan. There was a phase in my life when my fandom probably crossed many lines of normalcy and decency. But, whatever. The Beatles rock, and were it not for them, music today would suck. On this I will not compromise.

But unlike the vast majority of other diehard Beatles fans, I never lived the Beatles. Sure, I share Beatles experiences with many of my friends – a few of whom are playing in this band with me – but we weren’t there for Beatlemania or Sgt. Pepper or the break-up or really any of it (though one of my earliest memories as a child is seeing news of John Lennon’s murder on television, if that counts for anything).

I’ve listened to the Beatles in a different context than those who heard them when their songs were still new (ahem, mom, dad, other Boomers), and this, in turn, has led to my somewhat off-the-wall list of favorite Beatles songs. For instance, the title of this post is a line from “I’ve Got A Feeling” – a solid rock tune off of Let It Be that’s on my short list but probably few others. What’s more, if forced to pick an all-time favorite, I’d have to choose “Don’t Let Me Down,” the B-side of the “Get Back” single.

I mean, who picks a B-side as their favorite?

Anyway, let me hear from you. What are your favorite Beatles songs, or what would you like to hear on Saturday?

Also, for sociology’s sake, share whether you’ve been a Beatles fan since the beginning or since you were old enough to appreciate them.

Friday, June 06, 2008

And though the news was rather sad...

A few audio/visual treats for you on a Friday evening. First, a collection of photographs taken from the train carrying Bobby Kennedy's body from New York City to Washington, DC forty years ago this weekend. This is a pretty amazing collection. Here are two of my favorites:




See the link above for more pictures, or the New York Times for a slideshow narrated by the photographer, Paul Fusco.

Also, here's a pretty great site from the Boston Globe with daily stories told through large, high-quality photography.

Finally, this made me laugh on several occasions, but I'm a nerd with a fairly immature sense of humor. Be careful, some of the jokes are a little (or a lot, actually) risqué for those with more delicate sensibilities and refined tastes (you know who you are…).



The kid's name is Bo Burnham.

Somebody spoke and I went into a dream...

I had a nightmare last night.

This is not a very common experience for me. Most of my dreams involve unicorns and puppies.

Last night's dream was so bad that after waking up at 5 am, I couldn't fall back asleep, which usually isn't a problem for me at such an ungodly hour.

I'm sure you're now asking yourself what subconscious thoughts could have possibly caused me such great anguish. It wasn't monsters or demons or even sweet potatoes.

It was the iPhone.

In case you haven't heard, iPhone v.2 is almost certainly going to be announced on Monday. Rumors about the One Gadget to Replace Them All, which I've been obsessively following for weeks, all point to a line up of features that address the initial model's shortcomings. As much as I've wanted one since they were first announced almost 18 months ago, I've held off for a variety of reasons, but following the expiration of my Verizon contract in March, the demise of my old iPod in April and the maelstrom of rumors in May, I have been overrun by an urge to part with hard earned money for the shiniest of the shiny.

Clearly, as evidenced by my dream, this longing has seeped deep into my subconscious. The result of said seepage, however, was not pretty.

Most of the details are fuzzy, but what I remember most about the dream was opening the box to find a phone that fell short of expectations. In this case, short is probably an understatement. The device I removed from the box resembled something like this, only it flipped open to reveal more of the latest in 1980s technology.


I was crushed. And in my dreamy despair, I began frantically scouring eBay for a replacement, only to find that all of the older iPhones were being snatched up for thousands of dollars by disappointed folks like me. And that's when I finally cracked and woke up.

What's the takeway, aside from the fact that I'm a dork? Either I need more perspective in life, or Steve Jobs better not disappoint on Monday.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

They run and hide their heads...

After (grudgingly) being forced to ride out yesterday's storm away from windows with decent views in the basement of the George Howard Building, I anxiously drove home to see what havoc the weather had wreaked in my yard.

As I passed fallen tree after fallen tree, my nervousness mounted. Don't get me wrong, I loving having six mature trees surround my house -- including a huge 100-year-old pin oak -- but such leafiness does not come without occasional concern. If ever there was a day for concern, yesterday was it.

When I turned into my neighborhood, I was greeted with this sight:


Which, needless to say, did nothing to soothe my nerves. (I should point out that this house and its roof are still structurally sound and largely intact, contrary to how things may appear in the picture.

But as I turned onto my street, it was clear that my house had at least avoided that fate. And, indeed, upon closer inspection, it became clear that the total damage was below that of prior storms I've witnessed while living here. I mean:


Sure, we have our share of downed branches, but nothing major and nothing anywhere near the damage I had feared.

The open space around my neighborhood, however, was home to significant tree fall-age.



Columbia Talk has more shots of Oakland Mills storm damage here.

So, after this mess, it looks like we're in for some atrocious heat this weekend. Such are the wages of our otherwise fabulous spring, I suppose.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

It's been a long, long, long time...

So, yeah, what’s happening, hot stuff?

I think the past three weeks have probably been the busiest three weeks of my life. Between work work (I’ve taken over a colleague’s job while she’s on maternity leave and its budget season), house work, other people’s house work, a little bit of kickball and a whole lot of other stuff, I have barely had time to read others’ blogs, let alone think about adding things to my own. Thankfully, things seem to be pretty quite around these parts, so I haven’t missed much.

To be sure, I’ve thought about things I want to write about and may get around to more substantive posts soon, but for now here’s an announcement about something else that I’ve (probably foolishly) decided to put on my plate: Some friends and I are putting together a Beatles cover band to play the Oakland Mills’ 40th birthday party on June 28. My friends are great musicians (me, I get by with a little help from them) and huge Beatles fans, so I can guarantee a great show or your money back. Seriously, you should come out – you’ll get a chance to hear some good music (there are other bands playing, too) and show some support to East Columbia’s (a.k.a. the real Columbia) oldest village.

All for now. More soon.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

She don't remember the queen of soul...

Let's see. I have a bunch of random, disjointed thoughts I feel like sharing, but none really deserve their own post. Hmm. If only there were a predetermined blog post template/format I could use…

Yeeeeee-Haw!

Maintaining my substance-free, noncommittal style, I'm not going to say much about the General Growth show last night, but David Wissing shares many of my same thoughts on the presentation and Wordbones has a preliminary rundown of the plan's first phase. I will say that the Merriweather stuff kinda makes me what to do silly things, like use smiley-face emoticons, but I'll refrain.

No I won't: :-)

So instead of augmenting the thoughts of my Brothers in Blogging, I will only add a small anecdote from last night's three hour tour show. Towards the beginning, MC Hamm(er) asked under-35 members of the crowd to raise their hands, a request presumably designed to show the significant age imbalance of the assembled group. Predictably, only a handful of the nearly 500 folks raised their hands.

Although I've wrung my hands in the past about the lack of young people involved in the Downtown planning process, that's not my intention in sharing this anecdote. Rather, it's to highlight the disdain this hand-raising exercise spurred in the dude sitting behind me.

"What's the point of that question," he blustered. "Parents come to these meetings. Kids should be home doing homework. What a stupid question."

Run along, kiddies. The grown-ups need to talk about important stuff.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Are you anxious for more extensive coverage of local happenings? I mean, sure, there are the local blogs. They're great and all, but if you're like me – and I think you are – than you're looking for something that's a bit more, um, "establishment."

Well, then have we got something for you. By "we," of course, I'm not including myself or anyone directly affiliated with me, but instead Patuxent Publishing, which is set to drop some Explore Howard goodness on the unsuspecting web-surfers of our fair community. The nascent "blog" that had been occupying www.explorehoward.com address has been replaced with this promising message: "explorehoward.com - arriving 05/01/2008."

It feels like Christmas.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Speaking of Christmas, it's been like that around here for me. In addition to getting three awesome new fillings for my poor, dying teeth, I picked up a new lens for my camera on Saturday, finally getting some decent tele-ability back into my photography. How about a shot?


Woo-hoo! Zoom!

Monday, April 28, 2008

More than a lot...

So, yeah, how ya been? Anything going on? I've been (not literally) away for a couple weeks. Did I miss something?

Oh, right, there was the whole Columbia Council election thingamajig on Saturday. He didn't win, but I'm happy to see my neighbor Phil Engelke put up a good fight, losing by only eight votes to Alex Hekemian. I'm also happy to see my friend Bill Santos win a seat on the Wilde Lake Village Board. There were some other races, but you can read about those here.

Is that it? Just the elections? I think I'm missing something.

Lookie here.

Yes, that's it! Tonight (Monday) General Growth will be releasing its plan for more "sidewalk cafés and whatever" in Town Center. (By the way, "Sidewalk Cafes and Whatever" – great name for a band).

I guess this is kind of a big deal. As such, feel free to share the love/hate in the comments. Me: I'm withholding any opinion on the plan until I'm assured of an adequate balance between whatever and cafes. I'm told their plan is far too heavy on the whatever.

I know. I'm taking it too far.

Really, I have a serious point to make. Thanks to the playfulness of providence (or the wicked sense of humor of the Puppet Master), Columbia is in the midst of a rather eventful week. There are a lot of important things happening now, many of which will have impacts on our fair city for years to come.

A big player in this ongoing saga is the Columbia Council. As in all groups, the interpersonal/political dynamics of this assemblage of individuals will factor heavily in the policies it passes. Over the past several years, we have seen the Downtown-specific partisanship of this board reach a point where members are now generally perceived, for better or worse, as pro-Downtown-development or anti-Downtown-development, largely to the exclusion of their positions on other matters. Now, I know that at least one board member would scoff at this distinction, but when lines are drawn – and, boy, are they ever – you can't straddle them; such is the nature of these kinds of lines.

Unfortunately, Downtown ain't the only name on Columbia's dance card. Also vying for the board's eye are environmental and open space issues, financial and assessment cap considerations, and the persistent aging (is there any other kind?) of our shared facilities and community resources, among other things. On these matters, board alliances will be drastically different than the One Alliance to Rule Them All.

My fear is that the Town Center groupings – however tenuous their foundations – may carry over into completely unrelated matters, especially as the Downtown issue really starts to sizzle again. This wouldn't be good governance and probably wouldn't yield the best outcomes. This is one of the reasons why the debates about Town Center and the role of the Columbia Council in the process need to be reframed and taken to a more positive and (yes) opportunistic place.

I am, however, hopeful that board members will find common cause with those on the other side of the Town Center debate and work towards shared goals in other areas; indeed, we have already seen this happen on several issues, but I'd still like to see more. Since I'm making requests, I'd also like to see the artificial Downtown distinctions dropped in favor of a truly open dialogue.

Never hurts to ask, right?

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

School's out forever!

It seems like every year with the onset of the spring heat – yeah, I'm calling it heat – I go through a bout of restless sleep.

For me, the ideal ambient sleeping temperature is somewhere around freezing and the ideal ambient household temperature is not much higher. Seriously…kind of.

During the winter, we keep the thermostat at a toasty 61ish degrees during the day and 57ish at night. Most people find this too cold. Most people are crazy. It's heaven.

But now, it's getting warmer, hot even, and as much as I love and, now, need cold air to sleep right, I can't bring myself to crank the A/C. Sure, I could open a window but (say what you will about this) I'm not really that comfortable leaving my first-floor bedroom window open with only a lovingly lackadaisical Husky for home protection.

All of this is a roundabout way of saying that I've had trouble falling asleep recently. And when I have trouble falling asleep, I think about stuff that generally makes me happy (I'm a 7), stuff like kickball, the Orioles, vacations I can't afford, mountain biking, taco night, my wife, dog, etc. (not necessarily in that order, but pretty close…).

So last night, after working through several kickball scenarios involving dramatic catches and exceptional base-running, my mind drifted onto a topic that's been hotly discussed on Freemarket's blog: school funding.

Although I've been known to in the past, I don't want to beat a dead horse here. I'm not going anywhere near the population control or kid propaganda machine issues. But all this talk about who pays for schools and who benefits stirred the not-quite-sleeping economist in me.

On the face of it, having parents pay for their kids' education seems like a pretty straightforward idea based on economics and fairness. Education is a tangible service provided at a cost. As with most services in society, if you want the benefit of it, you foot the bill.

Of course, education ain't massage therapy.

Rather, education, like many goods and services, places all sorts of externalities on our society, many of which cannot be quantified. For instance, how do you measure the benefit of living in a well-educated society? I'm sure someone's tried, but I don't feel like hopping down that Google-hole and I don't really think the results would be that conclusive.

But our educational system also provides direct services to residents, even those who aren't parents or children. And while lying awake last night, I came up with a pretty healthy list of services that I value. To wit:

  • Fields for practicing kickball with my friends
  • Fields for playing the annual Turkey Bowl football with my friends
  • Subjects for photograph
  • Hunting grounds for local hawks
  • Places for me to see local hawks hunting
  • Places where my dog can run in circles with 25-foot radii
  • Basketball hoops
  • Polling place
  • Shortcuts to various locations
  • Places where additional houses cannot be built
  • Places for community meetings
  • Chances to connect my neighbors while walking their kids to and from school
I could go on, but it's getting kind of absurd and might cloud the point. After all, the point is not what I value or how much I value these things. It's that I do. If these things were taken away from me, if I could not access the fields or take pictures of the school, my life would be poorer and I would be less happy.

I'll admit to being uncomfortable about monetizing everything in life, but if we're playing the economics game, let's play by the rules. As I said, how much I value these things is largely irrelevant, although I will say some are likely worth as little as a couple dollars and some much more so. Regardless, if it came down to losing the right to access these services or paying to keep them, I would be more than willing to throw at least a few – probably more – dollars in the hat.

Disentangling the value of these services from the broader collection of things I pay for with my tax dollars is probably impossible. But all of it is in there, internalized in the price I'm willing to pay to live in this community and therefore the amount of property taxes I pay each year to support the network of publicly provided goods.

So this is why I can't agree with argument that parents shoulder 100 percent of the burden for the cost of their child's education. Even if I'm the only one who practices kickball on school fields – and I know I'm not – everyone in this community derives some value from the school system. And if you value something that you don't pay for, you're a free rider. And in theoretical economics-speak, free riders lead to Pareto inefficient market outcomes – or, they screw things up.

Given the imperfections of identifying the value each individual places on our public schools, deriving a system where funding is entirely proportional to the benefits they receive is beyond our political and policy capacities. This is not to say there isn't a better system out there; it's just that, thus far, I haven't heard of one.

But who knows? Give me a few more warm, restless nights and I might come up with a plan. Either that or the perfect kickball line-up. Both are of generally the same value to me.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------

A couple notes: My family shares a pretty strong commitment to fairness. This, I think, explains why I love sports and economics. At least in theory, both create somewhat-artificial contexts where "fair" is the initial condition and then let independent actors duke it out for whatever it is they're seeking, constrained only by the rules of "the game" and how they play it.

My interest in both however is less in the rules or theories, but in the performance. When the situation changes, how do people react? How does something that happens in the beginning of the situation play out at the end. I'm genuinely fascinated by the decisions people make when faced with a set of circumstances, resources and constraints they only partially control.

Also, let's say we did charge people the full cost for educating their kids, what would happen? My guess: A lot more home-schooling, as well as, unfortunately, "home-schooling."

Finally, I think someone mentioned this but I don't have the time to look it up: Isn't it true that you most likely pay off the costs of your public education over the course of your life? I spent 18 years in Maryland public schools and universities and I'm thankful everyday for the education and opportunities I received. While interviewing for a job with the State of Maryland out of graduate school, I mentioned that the debt I owed to taxpayers for my education was a factor in my decision to work in the public sector.

If, all of a sudden, you stopped charging general taxpayers for educational costs, wouldn't at least some of them be getting off with a pretty sweet deal?

Monday, April 07, 2008

When the streams are ripe and swelled with rain...

Just some odds and ends for a dreary April Monday…

I cleaned my deck yesterday. It looks very nice, thanks for asking. On the advice of some friends who know these things, I opted to scrub with soap rather than power wash.

Friends who recommended this: You have temporarily lost my trust.

Cleaning a deck is prolonged misery. Seriously.

With most of the work around the house that I do – even the arduous stuff – there are usually milestones along the path to completion that bolster my spirit and keep me going. Not so with the deck cleaning.

Upon completing the task, I hobbled inside and collapsed on the couch, drawing inexplicable laughter from my usually-supportive wife. Feebly, I asked her what was so funny.

"People wash decks everyday for a living," she said.

"Yeah, but ours is bigger than most."

"So."

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"We knew we were going to win."

The sweet reward of yesterday's work was watching the Orioles game on the DVR. I dutifully watched them fail to muster any offense against Felix Hernandez for eight innings, and not once thought of stopping the game. Probably because I couldn't move my arm enough to lift the remote.

Nevertheless, as soon as Nick Markakis hit a double to lead off the ninth, I paused the game and called Abbzug into the room. Something's going to happen, I thought.

And, sure enough, with a few singles, a passed ball and a little bit of luck the Worst Team In Baseball (this year's Orioles) had managed to win their fourth-straight (now five, after another one-run win today!) since losing on opening day.

I know I'm usually the first in line for the orange Kool-Aid, but damn if it didn't feel great to get this win and, more importantly, to hear Dave Trembely say afterward in his press conference: "When Markakis hit that double, we knew we were going to win."

The Orioles have been quitters for the past decade – see last year's 13-31 record in one-run games for starters, then try the annual mid-summer collapse for your main course.

But maybe things really are starting to change.

Now, does anyone have a napkin I can use to wipe off this orange moustache?

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Our local politics reporter from The Sun has a great piece totally unrelated to our county. In this Op/Ed, Larry Carson writes about his experience covering the city beat in Baltimore for the News American during the riots that followed Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination.

Walking up Gay Street - past burning storefronts, past looters carrying suitcases through the broken display window of a pawn shop, and past Baltimore police cars racing by on their way from one riot call to another - I could hardly take it all in.

That Monday after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s murder was chaos in East Baltimore, where I struggled as a raw, 23-year-old police reporter for the News American to gather information. Strangely, none of the looters gave me a second glance, and I was calm and unafraid. Young, white, with short hair and wearing a sportcoat and tie, I probably looked like a police officer. I overheard several actual officers lamenting that since the new emphasis on civil rights, they had to arrest suspects instead of taking them around a corner and beating them.

One black man who passed me shook his head and said it was a "shame" what was happening all around us.

And it was. Nobody deserved to have his business ruined, his home burned, his possessions stolen. It was tragic, but then so were the years of injustices to Baltimore's African-Americans - confined to "their" schools and neighborhoods by racial prejudice, unable to find the kinds of jobs and opportunities whites had, yet spurred by the hopes that Dr. King aroused in all of us.
It's actually much more than a snapshot of that time and those riots, however, as it delves into Carson's experience growing up in a segregated Baltimore. You should probably just go ahead and read the whole thing.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

We all want to change the world...

A nice crowd turned out to hear County Executive Ken Ulman's speech on village center revitalization today. See if you can spot someone you know!

OK, so the angle doesn't really make identification easy, but what do you want from me?

Anyway, kind of apropos of Jessie's post today on urban decline in the 'burbs, here are some excerpts expressing in broad terms the challenge and opportunities facing village centers.

(Sorry for the all caps -- that's the format of the document and I don't really have the inclination to go back through and re-type everything.)

THE VILLAGE CENTER CONCEPT WAS, LIKE COLUMBIA ITSELF, AN EXPERIMENT IN COMMUNITY PLANNING. AND IT WAS, AND IN MANY RESPECTS STILL IS, A SUCCESSFUL EXPERIMENT. ANYONE WHO HAS BEEN TO THE BAGEL BIN ON A WEEKEND MORNING, OR EVEN A WEEKDAY MORNING FOR THAT MATTER, KNOWS YOU FIND MUCH MORE THAN PEOPLE HAVING BREAKFAST. YOU FIND NEIGHBORS RECONNECTING...AND A COMMUNITY BEING SUSTAINED.

DESPITE THE OVERALL SUCCESS OF THE EXPERIMENT, COLUMBIA’S VILLAGE CENTERS—PARTICULARLY OUR OLDER VILLAGE CENTERS—ARE CAUGHT IN THE CHANGING TIDES OF THE RETAIL MARKETPLACE AND THE SHIFTING PREFERENCES OF THE CONSUMERS THEY SERVE.

...THESE SETBACKS ARE NOT INDICATIVE OF THE FAILURE OF THE VILLAGE CENTER CONCEPT. IN BOTH OF THESE VILLAGE CENTERS, AND MORE IMPORTANTLY IN THE RESIDENTS OF THESE VILLAGES, THE VALUES AND IDEALS IN WHICH THE VILLAGE CENTER CONCEPT IS GROUNDED ARE STILL STRONG.

RATHER, THE SETBACKS WE HAVE SEEN ARE INDICATIVE OF THE GROWING NEED FOR VILLAGE CENTERS TO EVOLVE IN ORDER TO CONTINUE THRIVING, BOTH AS COMMERCIAL VENTURES AND AS GATHERING PLACES WHERE THE COMMUNITY CAN COME TOGETHER.

THE TIME HAS COME TO STRENGTHEN OUR COMMITMENT TO OUR VALUES BY RE-EXAMINING HOW THEY ARE MANIFEST IN THE PHYSICAL SPACES OF OUR COMMUNITY.

...THE UNFORTUNATE STORY OF A ONCE PROUD AND STRONG COMMUNITY WHICH SUFFERED A CRIPPLING DECLINE IS ONE WE KNOW ALL TOO WELL. OFTEN WITHOUT NOTICE AND SEEMINGLY WITHOUT CAUSE, STREETS GREW DANGEROUS, SCHOOLS UNDERPERFORMED, RESIDENTS AND BUSINESSES FLED; AND THOSE WHO STAYED FACED THE DAUNTING TASK OF RESTORING A FRACTURED COMMUNITY TO ITS FORMER GLORY.

THIS IS A FATE THAT I WILL NOT ALLOW COLUMBIA, ANY OF ITS VILLAGES, OR ANY COMMUNITY IN HOWARD COUNTY TO ENDURE.

I DO NOT MEAN TO SOUND ALARMIST OR PESSIMISTIC, BUT WE MUST BE COGNIZANT OF OUR VULNERABILITY AND COMMIT OURSELVES TO VIGOROUSLY MAINTAINING THE STRENGTH AND SAFETY OF OUR COMMUNITY THROUGH SOUND, FORWARD-FOCUSED INVESTMENTS AND POLICY INITIATIVES.

WE HAVE, IN A SENSE, COME TO A FORK IN THE ROAD, AND WE MUST CHOOSE OUR DIRECTION.

EITHER WE COMMIT OURSELVES TO REVITALIZATION OR WE CAN SIMPLY THROW UP OUR HANDS AND EXPRESS REGRET WHEN THE NEXT STORE CLOSES AND AT EACH ADDITIONAL GRIM MILESTONE ALONG A GRADUAL DECLINE.

IN MY MIND, THERE IS NO CHOICE. OUR PATH IS CLEAR. WE MUST REVITALIZE AND RE-INVENT OUR STRUGGLING VILLAGE CENTERS.

WE CERTAINLY ARE NOT IMMUNE TO THE PROBLEMS WHICH HAVE CAUSED OTHER COMMUNITIES TO DECLINE. WHAT MAKES US DIFFERENT, HOWEVER, AND WILL HELP PROTECT US FROM A SIMILAR FATE IS OUR COMMITMENT AS A COMMUNITY GROUNDED IN SHARED VALUES AND A SHARED VISION.

...OUR COMMITMENT TO VILLAGE CENTER REVITALIZATION HAS ALSO LED US TO THE DECISION WHICH I AM HERE TO ANNOUNCE TODAY. I AM PLEASED TO TELL YOU THAT WE WILL BE INTRODUCING A ZONING REGULATION AMENDMENT TO CREATE OPPORTUNITIES FOR VILLAGE CENTERS IN NEED OF REVITALIZATION TO REDEVELOP AND EVOLVE.

...WE HAVE A TREMENDOUS OPPORTUNITY BEFORE US.

AS JIM ROUSE SAID IN 1964, “WE HAVE IN OUR HANDS THE OPPORTUNITY TO MAKE OUR CITY—IN OUR GENERATION—THE MOST LIVABLE, THE MOST BEAUTIFUL, AND THE MOST EFFECTIVE CITY IN AMERICA.”

THESE WORDS ARE JUST AS RELEVANT TODAY AS THEY WERE 44 YEARS AGO, PERHAPS EVEN MORE SO BECAUSE WE HAVE SEEN THEM COME TRUE.

WHEN JIM ROUSE FIRST SAID THESE WORDS, COLUMBIA DID NOT EXIST...IT WAS STILL A DREAM. BUT TODAY, COLUMBIA IS LIVING PROOF THAT BOLD VISION AND THOUGHTFUL PLANNING CAN CREATE A DIFFERENT AND BETTER KIND OF CITY.

A BETTER CITY, CANNOT ALLOW ITSELF TO GROW STAGNANT. IT MUST CONTINUALLY SEEK TO IMPROVE ITSELF, TO REINVENT ITSELF, TO EVOLVE.

TOGETHER, LET’S EMBRACE THE FUTURE IN A SPIRIT OF INNOVATION AND CREATIVITY, OF HOPE AND OPTIMISM, REMEMBERING AGAIN THAT WHAT OUGHT TO BE, CAN BE.

If you have time, you should probably just read the whole thing (warning: PDF).

Monday, March 24, 2008

The bigger the cushion, the sweeter the pushin'…that's what I said…

I'm sorry about that title. I can't help it: I inadvertently stumbled onto the beginning of This is Spinal Tap on television this weekend and I told myself I was only going to watch until Nigel talked about his guitar's sustain and his amp going to "11." But I didn't. I watched the whole thing. And you know what? I'm a better person because of it.

So, uh, yeah…

I guess there's no such thing as Retriever Magic. Oh, well. The NCAA tournament was fun while it lasted for my alma mater. At least I got a post (and a half) out of it.

Here are a couple other things…

By now you've probably heard about a village center-related press conference tomorrow involving my boss. I can't really share more than what's in the oh-so-thorough press release, but if you're interested in being the first to know, stop by the Wilde Lake Village Center tomorrow at 10:15 a.m.

In other news – news that I can actually share – for the second straight year voters in Oakland Mills will have a choice between two candidates vying for the village's seat on the Columbia Council. This year's contest pits long-time Columbia Association antagonist (and former Columbia Councilperson) Alex Hekimian against Phil Engelke, a (very) long-time Columbia resident and owner of probably the coolest house in Oakland Mills. Expect a bit more coverage of this election as it really starts getting underway.

Finally, Papa Hayduke is out in California for spring break, which means I'm missing out on my weekly free meal. Making my culinary sacrifice worth it is the fact that he was able to play a round at Pebble Beach and parred the 18th, one of the greatest finishing holes in all of golf. Congrats, Dad!

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Nothing left for me to do but dance...



UMBC is in the NCAA Tournament for the first time ever!

Stolen from a sign shown during the broadcast: Fear the Turtle Retriever.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The horizon has been defeated...

Here's my meager weekly attempt at maintaining this blog…

First things first: I got a new car! Actually, I didn't, Abbzug did. But my name's the first one on the title! Which counts for absolutely nothing. Still, it's a damn fine looking automobile, if I may say so. (I'd post a pic but it's too dark now. Maybe tomorrow.)

Sure, it's the same brand and model of the car we had before, but in addition to being shiny and new, this one has a much greater probability of actually starting when asked, a fine attribute for a car to have. I must admit, however, that I'm a bit sad to see white people don't like Subarus as much as they once did. Here I was, thinking I'm doing my part to fit the mold. Darn.

Meanwhile, another local merchant closes its doors. This time it's Produce Galore. Columbia Talk was on the scene first (as usual) and offers some follow up coverage that includes a couple interesting things.

Thing one, from the Sun's story: Said Del. Elizabeth Bobo, "I think it's just so sad. I can't help but believe that with support from the local government, we could prevent something like this. There must be something we can do to help family businesses that give such a unique, personal service to our community."

Hmm.

Thing two, from the post itself: "We channel so much energy these days into fighting stuff we don't want (highrises, Merriweather development, etc.) but not so much in saving that which we hold dear." Personally, I think that's a fantastic idea. Change the whole tenor of community activism.

Meanwhile, Wordbones offers a cool, logical and detached take on the closing of Produce, as do some of his commenters. But, of course, the comment I liked most was this:

...and let me add, the HC bloggers are a mess where developers are concerned.

There are no discussions, it's more like a cheer leading exercize. Quite nauseating at this point.

No wonder y'all are loosing readers like money at the gas pump.


There's a lot of funny in that. I mean, Wordbones is a developer (for the purposes of this discussion, anyway). But I'll leave it to you to dissect the rest of the humor…or not.

There's probably something to learn about our situation in that observation, too, irrespective of its accuracy (which I'm not weighing in on).

I was going to say something about the Flier's opinion pages, but as with the humor above, I'll let you do the analysis.

Oh, here's a start: "Like, wow!"

Finally, good things may be on the horizon for my little slice of heaven, Oakland Mills.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

It's a crazy world we're living in…

I have a ton of stuff about the One Homeowner's Association to Rule Them All, Columbia Association.

First, if you haven't seen Bill's post on the Lakefront issues, go there now. Seriously, it's good stuff.

Second, breaking news: I've been told that long-time Columbia Council representative and one-time Ian Kennedy opponent Barbara Russell has opted not to run again for her post.


Really? She couldn't have made that decision last year?

Actually, I'm glad she didn't. Yeah, I went there: I'm a loser and proud of it. 

Anyway, who's going to run for the seat? Leave suggestions – or pleas to your candidate of choice – in the comments. I know who I'm rooting for.

Finally, Evan Coren and I have deep, fundamental disagreements about a bunch of things, particularly stuff related to Downtown Columbia. For instance, he thinks the Plaza Tower is a "middle finger" to all that Jim Rouse stood for. Me, I think it's a kind of boring tall building with expensive condos that probably, at this point, won't even get built.

See? Totally different.

These disagreements have at times caused tension among us, but that's cool. I like tense, awkward situations.

But, now, I have to hand it to the guy. He's been doing good things. First, I hear he went to bat for Oakland Mills revitalization, supporting in the face of considerable opposition an appropriation of funding for the community organizer position currently occupied by Ben Hunter. This position is vital to the success of OM's continuing revitalization effort, and Evan, unlike many of his colleagues, understood this from the get go. 

Also, he's questioned a proposal to lower CA's assessment cap, a move that could be damaging to CA's financial position, which seems a bit tenuous already.

Overall, he's got perspective on things where others seem to lack it -- in addition to what's mentioned above, see his comments about the deteriorating structures at the lakefront in Bill's post (seriously, check it out.)

So without hesitation, I'm giving Evan the CA Board Member of the Year Award. And while we're at it, I'm giving Barbara a lifetime achievement award -- after eight years on the board, she deserves it.

And lastly, about this decision to end CA meetings at 11 pm: While I applaud the realization that public meetings aren't really public if they're held past midnight, board members seem to be trying to solve a symptom rather than the problem. There are very real concerns about how the board operates, concerns that aren't going to be addressed by simply letting everyone go to bed at a reasonable hour. Jessie shares some similar thoughts here.

Come on, Evan, try taking this one on. 

Monday, March 03, 2008

Hold your head up, you silly girl...

Just a couple assorted links while my head recovers from the pounding it took at the Maryland Home and Garden Show over the weekend.


Hey, hey. Lookie here. David Wissing's got a new (kinda) blog focused on HoCo stuff. For the non-national-poll-obsessed, this is where you'll want to go for all the local news. If you like polls, however, be sure to keep both sites bookmarked.

And that's about all I got for local stuff. But, wait...

You know Jessie likes those LOL Cats pictures, which are fine if a bit illiterate for my tastes. (I mean, "I can has cheezburger"? Don't they know that is not proper syntax or spelling?)

Anyway, there's now a similar site for those choosing the better side of the great pet debate: Fail Dogs. Unlike the LOL Cats craziness, the site does not rely on the anthropomorphic infantilization of cute kitties for humor but rather needs only the inherent and boundless silliness of canines to bring the funny. Like...


Yay dogs!

Thursday, February 28, 2008

All we need is just a little patience...

The email from Little Duke says it all...

"Uh oh":

There will be no sneak peek via On Demand of the 90-minute series finale of HBO's The Wire, according to a spokesman for the cable channel.

The finale will premiere at 9 p.m. March 9, and that will be the first time anyone will be able to see it - whether or not they have access to HBO On Demand.

Throughout this fifth and final season, subscribers have been able to use On Demand to see each of the nine previous episodes starting the Monday before their Sunday night cable premiere.

HBO says they are breaking with that pattern so that On Demand viewers don't "spoil" the finale for those who want to watch March 9. During this season and last, On Demand viewers have often posted details of episodes online in a way that made the spoilers almost impossible to ignore.


Man, it's gonna be a long week.

At least I can surf the internet again without fear of someone spoiling the ending. So, there's that.

Anyway, Wire fans, what have you thought about the season so far? If the trend in quality of episodes continues, this last one could be the best and saddest ever.

As I said earlier, I was apprehensive about the plot lines and story trajectory at first, but I'm totally on board now and, obviously, can't wait to see how it resolves (or doesn't).

Monday, February 25, 2008

But if you're waiting on the wind, don't forget to breathe...

Dinosaur Mom (via Jessie) shares more sad news for Oakland Mills: The Blue Cow Café is allegedly closing. If true, the news may be bit shocking but, sadly, not surprising.

Karen Blue (owner of the café) was a supporter of mine during the CA elections last year. I only hope that things work out in the end for her.

Although it may be too late to reverse the tide of recently or soon-to-be closed restaurants in Oakland Mills, it's not too late to leave an impact on the long term health of this village. Tomorrow night (Tuesday, Feb. 26, 7:30 pm) is the Oakland Mills Town Hall meeting, a big opportunity for residents to help set the agenda for the redevelopment of their village.

Leave the posturing about revitalization to others. Here's your chance to actually do something. Take action. Get involved. Make a difference.

Yes we can?

(Sorry.)

OK, seriously. Words may make it sound trite, but nowhere is your contribution more meaningful and change more possible than in your own backyard.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

I've been trying to get down to the heart of the matter...

There's this conventional wisdom floating around that the health of our village centers is contingent on the health of their anchors, grocery stores. Example here:

[Wilde Lake] Village Board Chairman Vincent Marando told [General Growth Vice President Greg] Hamm that the village had gone without a grocery store for a year and a half. The Giant store at that location closed in September 2006.

"I'm not sure the health of the Village Center can be held hostage for the next couple years," he said.
While not stated explicitly, the underlying sentiment in this statement seems to be that without a grocery store, the health of the village center is in peril. But is that really the case?

Once but, perhaps, not anymore.

For instance, compare the offerings at Wilde Lake's village center versus those in Oakland Mills (PDF) and ask yourself: Which would you rather live near?

I can count the businesses in Oakland Mills with just my hands (nine establishments). In order to count those in Wilde Lake (19), I need to take my shoes off, and trust me, you don't want that.

Wilde Lake has everything Oakland Mills does and much more to boot. Yet, the former is the center without a grocery store.

What gives?

Many hands have been wrung over the future of our village centers, about how we keep these vital components of our community relevant in the face of significant social and economic change. But we seem to keep coming back to the idea that an anchor grocery store is the most essential element. Maybe it's time to ditch that idea.

Back in the day, grocery stores were physically smaller and drew from smaller geographic areas. Today, however, with increasingly diversified tastes and shopper preferences, the thought of getting groceries at the store that happens to be closest to you is almost quaint. People want to go where they want to go, not where they should go because of geography and some mushy ideals about community.

Big families like Costco. Funky folks like Trader Joe's. Hippies like natural food stores. Rich hippies like Whole Foods. Cheapskates like Wal-Mart, Target or some other discount retailer that squeezes everything under the sun into their aisles. People who want it all like Wegmans. And so on.

To be sure, there is still a small segment of the population that must or chooses to walk to get groceries. And most of us don't want to go 20 minutes out of our way to get milk, toilet paper or some other essential item. In general, however, the bulk of our grocery shopping seems to be done on a weekly basis at the store of our preference, assuming it's within a reasonable distance (10 - 20 minute drive).

If this is how society has evolved, why should we fight ourselves and insist on full-sized, modern grocery stores in every village center?

To be sure, the "daily needs" element of village centers is still very relevant. Dry cleaners, banks, barber shops, and the like all belong in village centers, as do places that provide basic food and grocery needs. Beyond these requirements, restaurants and other small businesses seem like the most appropriate uses. The dearth of such establishments is bemoaned by anyone who has sought good, non-chain restaurants, specialty items or just decent customer service -- that is, all of us.

Admittedly, I haven't fully thought out the repercussions of such a shift in thinking. Perhaps, as we ponder their future, we need to look at our village centers as a whole, instead of individually, and try to understand how they can serve as retail and commercial hubs for neighborhood needs as well as those of the broader community. Perhaps I'm wildly off base and most people still want to go to whatever store is closest.

Regardless, a discussion about the potential of post-grocery store village centers seems to be in order for our sake and that of one our community's most cherished institutions.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

I keep the ends out for the tie that binds...

Just a couple odds and ends for today...


I'm working on the Montana trip Round Up but haven't gotten too far. Really, all I have is a working title: "Southwest Montana: The Dirtbag Chronicles." Also, I organized most of the pictures from the trip -- only 650ish this time, compared to over 1,500 from my last Montana adventure. 

Here's the problem: While I want to write with enough detail to satisfy any skiers or boarders who read this blog and might be looking for ideas for a future trip, I don't want it to turn into one of those painful ski resort recaps you can find all over the internet. That is, the kind that earnestly and laboriously list all of the runs the author did, the price of food in the base area and the relative comfort of the accommodations. There's no "pop" in that.

Maybe I'll just post a video of me hitting a gnarly jump and call it a day.

What else? Hmm...

What about The Wire? Who's watching it On Demand? Man, the latest episode -- #58 -- had a shocker, huh? Let's avoid spoilers in the comments for the non-On Demand audience.

Something I've noticed: Some of the show's lovers have become haters -- this season's too didactic, the newsroom too staged, some of the plot lines too forced or unrealistic, they say. At first, I was on the fence about the newspaper stuff, too, but in the past few episodes it has come around. Also, I read two things on the plane -- an essay by David Simon in Esquire and Basket Case by Carl Hiaasen -- that added a ton of perspective to The Sun story line. 

Regardless, the show's coming to an end in only a couple of weeks and television will become a little poorer because of this.

How about the weather? Couple chances of snow and other wintry messiness this week. Anyone excited? Even though I just came from a place that has received over 20 feet of snow so far this year, I'm still pretty jazzed about the prospect of a couple flakes/pellets falling in the area.

To all my Oakland Mills peeps, next week is the annual Town Hall meeting, which is pretty cool and certainly worth a couple hours of your time on a Tuesday night. From the OM eNews:
Listen – Brainstorm – Report Back!

Oakland Mills Town Hall Meeting
Tuesday, Feb. 26, 7:30 p.m. at The Other Barn
(Please enter through the side/courtyard door)

Our purpose for the Town Hall Meeting is to provide an opportunity for Oakland Mills residents to create agenda items for our next phase of community development! We are gathering together for the purpose of identification, prioritization, and implementation of creative ideas to move us forward as a community.

Be a part of Oakland Mills ongoing community development! We’re setting aside a few hours on Feb. 26 to find out what the residents of Oakland Mills think, what you want to see happen in Oakland Mills, and, what you are passionate and committed to work on.

We have proven over the past three years of our revitalization initiatives that it indeed takes a village to make things happen. Our board, committee volunteers and staff have been working diligently to create a framework for community development. Help us define Oakland Mills’ future on February 26th. Be a part of the exciting thing about to take place in Oakland Mills! (No r.s.v.p required, refreshments will be served. Bring a neighbor or two!)
Finally, I made a couple changes around here. Mostly subtle stuff, but I updated the link list and the RSS feeds on the side. As always, if there's anything I'm forgetting or should do differently, let me know.

All for now. More tomorrow.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Oh, Mama, can this really be the end...

Let's be honest: Most people read this blog for its travel tips, the witty dispatches about foreign locales most in our suburban community could only dream about seeing.  

OK, that's clearly not true (and therefore dishonest). In this blog's storied history, only twice have I gone on personal trips -- both times to southwestern Montana. Me, I'm not much of a world traveler.

But I did have a pretty good time at my sister's wedding a couple years ago and this time -- the week spent sliding down big mountains -- well, it was pretty cool, too.

Actually, it was more than just cool, but I'll get to that later this week when I'm not sitting on the floor of the Denver airport waiting for my delayed flight to board.

Until then, here's a picture from the week's pinnacle: Hiking up The Ridge at Bridger Bowl and riding what was, without exaggeration, the greatest run of my life.


Monday, February 11, 2008

I feel it coming in...

Well, we've yet to get dumped on, but with a couple inches last night and tons of trackless snow back in the trees, I'm happy to report (and I'm sure you're happy to hear) that I'm scratching my powder itch. 

Here's a shot of Bridger Bowl yesterday. Note the excessive crowd.


I think we're moving on to the big mountain tomorrow, but who knows? If it's snowing somewhere in southwestern Montana, we'll probably be there.

Don't forget to vote tomorrow! Oh, and here's something about Obama and specifics that I found interesting.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Can't you see the sunshine, can't you just feel the moonshine...

The week leading up to a vacation is the worst, right? You have a million things to do before you leave, but you can't focus on what's in front of you long enough to get anything done.

Not only that, but the days start slowing down the closer you get to departure and, if you're like me, the night before leaving is usually full of anxious anticipation rather than sleep (and considering my flight leaves before sunrise on Saturday, this is going to be particularly annoying).

Anyway, that's where I'm at right now. And with that in mind, here's a disjointed series of thoughts…

Sad news on the Oakland Mills front. It seems the Fire Rock Grill has closed for an indefinite amount of time for, apparently, indefinite reasons. This really sucks. Bad. But at least it frees up a couple of parking spots in the village center.

Somewhere there's a tree on a clear-cut hillside thankful for its safety…

Jack Johnson, who's pretty awesome, just came out with a new album on Tuesday. It's called Sleep Through the Static and so far, I like what I hear. But I'm a pretty big Jack Johnson fan (understatement), so my opinion probably isn't worth much to the disinterested music fans.

Two cool things about the album. First, it was recorded using only solar energy, which I got no problems with. The second is he's using its launch to promote All At Once, described thusly:

All At Once is a social action network providing information, tools, and motivation for individuals who want to become active in their local and world community.

All At Once brings together non-profit organizations and fans to create change - your actions, your voice, and your choices all have a huge impact.

All At Once connects people together through a new online community (full site to launch March 1 – come back and check it out!). AllAtOnce.org is a connecting place for people to discuss issues and events, learn about non-profit groups, and take action together.

Pretty cool.

Finally, I'm a little hesitant to mention this because anything can happen, especially when talking about weather, but it looks like my jinx has come to an end. You see, in my life I've taken only two extended trips away from the East Coast in the middle of winter. The first time was January 1996 when I went to New Orleans and the second time was February 2003 when I went to Las Vegas.

These dates may not mean much to you, but to weather nerds like myself, these dates are spoken of in hushed, reverential tones. In the last twenty years, Howard County has received more than two feet of snow from a single storm only twice, and both times I was somewhere else wearing shorts. And each time, a little bit of my soul died.

When I booked the tickets for my trip to Montana in December, I was afraid that we'd get another mega-storm this week, but such a storm now seems pretty unlikely. Which is fine by mean, especially if it means more snow out west.

Alright, that's all I'm saying for now. Probably nothing tomorrow, but stay tuned next week for some stupid posts and pictures (and perhaps even another guest blogging appearance from a random family member) from Montana.

Monday, February 04, 2008

So close, yet so far away...

Woo-hoo!

Yes, like most of America, I am reveling in the schadenfreude of the New England Patriots' historic loss at the hands of goofy Eli Manning and the G-men. 

I think I've watched close to 1,000 replays of "The Play" and it just never gets old; I mean, how does David Tyree not drop that ball?  

Great play. Great game.

Anyway, nothing but a couple of pictures today. Enjoy!



Thursday, January 31, 2008

The hope of a skinny kid with a funny name...

The day after the 2004 presidential elections -- around the time I was called out for being a petulant ass by someone with whom I disagree often but have always respected -- I came home from work feeling horrible. 

Not only had my "guy" -- if you could even call him that -- lost, but our future seemed darker than ever for reasons that had nothing to do with the war, social security, or any other area where decent people can and should disagree.

I was upset with the stupid maps of the country showing blue states as the United States and red states as Jesusland; with the emails telling me how to move to Canada or just telling me to move to Canada; with the idiotic Bushitler and "Imagine No Liberals" t-shirts spreading like invasive weeds; and with all the petty proclimations of superiority and righteousness, from both sides. 

Yes, the divisiveness had fueled me for months, but on that day, the Day After, my tank was empty and I just wanted it all to stop, even though I knew it wouldn't.

So, I walked my dog and ate dinner with my wife. And then I went into my office, sat on the floor and listened to Barack Obama's speech from the Democratic National Convention three months prior. And, as with the first time I heard it, I cried.

Maybe I'm a naive, overly-emotional git who is easily persuaded by a positive message delivered by a once-in-a-lifetime orator, but I can't help feeling now, as I did then, that he really is the Real Deal; that we really are standing at the precipice of a profound transformation; that there really is such a thing as the "politics of hope;" that the true mark of a leader is not what he does, but how he does it; and that deep down, we -- all of us -- recognize that "there’s not a liberal America and a conservative America — there’s the United States of America."

And today, by virtue of an absentee ballot, I added my meager voice to the chorus of millions chanting "Yes We Can" and truly believing that "out of this long political darkness a brighter day will come."

The audacity of hope indeed.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

If I could only get there, then I could enjoy...

There's an interesting dynamic between people, neighborhoods and grocery stores that, had I more time or inclination, I would like to explore further. Perhaps another time.

Suffice to say, you can tell a lot about a community by its grocery store(s). And with all the fuss surrounding the Wegmans, now seems like a good time to take a closer look at the source of the fuss.

Determined to find out just what a Wegmans is and whether its worthy of Columbia (or is it vice versa?), I set out last Sunday for Hunt Valley to see first hand how -- in this day, in this community -- a big-box development could actually rouse as many supporters as opponents.

I'm certainly not one to shy away from hyperbolic love for grocery stores, but some of the odes to Wegmans I'm hearing are making even me blush.

So, here, with pictures, is my take on The Wegmans Experience.

Unfortunately for the Hunt Valley Wegmans, it's in Hunt Valley, which now has one of those vanilla Town Centers -- basically a mall without a roof or, perhaps more fittingly, Disneyworld's Main Street without large stuffed animals. To say these projects represent some great advancement in community/retail planning and development is kind of laughable, but hey, people seem to like them.



But in its favor, Hunt Valley's lifestyle center has transit.


So, there's that.

Anyway, I didn't go to look at stores that we have in Columbia. I went to see this:


Let's take a look inside.

Hey, a "Convenience Case" with milk and butter right up front. That's nice, if a bit silly in concept for a store like this.


Lots of prepared food in the "restaurant" part.


Bagged salads galore, always good for the health-conscious family on the go.


Plenty of fresh produce, too, and, as advertised, it all looked pretty good.

(That's the best picture of produce I got. Sorry.)

Although the size is a little overwhelming at first, Wegmans does a good job of clustering things to make the store feel like a collection of smaller, specialty shops. For instance:

Cheese.


Bread.


Tea.


Kosher stuff.


Cliff bars. (By the box!)


And this, which I dubbed the "Trader Joe's" section.



Navigation, at least on Sunday, was tricky. Not only was it super crowded with many folks wandering around, mouths open, soaking up the enormity of it, but the middle lane that breaks up each aisle served mainly as a traffic bottleneck. Which was frustrating at times.


The "traditional" section had everything you'd expect to find at your local grocer, including, importantly, a healthy selection of Utz.


Despite the crowds, check out was quick, with plenty of lanes open and many without any line whatsoever.

I was less impressed with the total cost, however. Even with a bunch of store brand products in my cart, I easily spent more than I would for a normal trip to Food Lion or Trader Joe's. But unlike those stores, I can complete my entire shopping trip at Wegmans. (Ah, if only Trader Joe's sold Coke and Gatorade.)

The million dollar question, then, is: Will I do my routine shopping at Wegmans once it opens in Columbia?

Unfortunately, I can't say. Sure, it's big and nice and full of good food. But it's size, in my opinion, is actually a drawback. One of the things I like most about Trader Joe's is that its small and manageable, though it, too, can get crowded.

That said, comparing the experience at Wegmans to Trader Joe's probably isn't fair to Wegmans. Trader Joe's has built its reputation, to an extent, on its quirkiness, which alone helps make for a more enjoyable and entertaining experience. Wegmans serves a different need, one that is perhaps less in line with what I'm looking for than with what others want.

Also, when it comes to food, I'm a creature of habit. Ask anyone who knows me and they'll tell you I have a very consistent diet. For instance, I've had the same lunch -- apple sauce, sugar snap peas (sometimes carrots), yogurt, crackers, chips, protein bar, pistachios, and some other random fruit (the wild card) -- for the past three years.

So, for me, what's the point of going somewhere that has everything I need and a million other things I don't? If I'm not saving money, am I at least saving time by making one lengthy stop instead of two shorter ones?

(Aside: An interesting anecdote that relates to elements of the controversy surrounding the Columbia Wegmans. Thrice, while eavesdropping on other shoppers (a bad habit of mine), I heard folks extolling Wegmans' treatment of its employees and how it is consistently ranked among the best places to work.)