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Monday, March 31, 2014

Maryland health care reform---the good and the bad

      Today marks the final day to sign up for the coverage from the Affordable Health Care Program.  Like the Federal site anyone who attempts to log onto the Maryland site to sign up today but is unable to complete the process will probably be given until April 15th to complete the process.  The Governor has finally decided that the Maryland site will be scrapped after this year's sign up period and the software developed by Deloitte for Connecticut will be used this November for Maryland's next year's sign ups.   Maryland's attempt to be a model for signing up its citizens for the program turned out to be an embarrassment for the State.  The Washington Post did a report back in January which outlined the problems with the site development.  Just as the old saying that "too many cooks spoils the broth" it appears that there was inadequate project management for the effort without clear lines of authority to make decisions.  One hundred seventy million dollars seems to have been wasted in the effort.  Not surprisingly there has been considerable finger pointing since the unsuccessful October roll out.
     For those of us that have been advocates for health care reform that finally decouples health care coverage from the employer based system the failures in Maryland and initially with the Federal site have been frustrating.  This failure has unfortunately given political ammunition to opponents of any health care reform. I am still watching what happens with the healthcare developments being tried in Vermont with its single payer Green Mountain Health Care program.
     So what it the good news about Maryland health care?  Maryland has the lowest cost in the nation for delivering a baby.  Compared with the average across all reporting states, Maryland hospitals charged $3,000-$4,500 less for vaginal births, and $7,500-$10,500 less for cesarean births.  In fact as the chart below shows Maryland has the slowest rise in hospital costs of any state in the nation.


       As the Washington Post reported in January, Maryland has received permission from the Federal Government to experiment to  "cap hospital spending and set prices — and, if all goes as planned, cut $330 million in federal spending. The new plan, which has been under negotiation for more than a year, could leave Maryland looking more like Germany and Switzerland, which aggressively regulate prices, than its neighboring states. And it could serve as a model - or cautionary tale - for other states looking to follow in its footsteps."
    “You can put Maryland in the company of Massachusetts and perhaps Vermont as the three states furthest out in trying to invent a new future for cost accountability in health care spending,” added Harvard University’s John McDonough. “Success creates a model that other states will want to look at emulating. And failure means it’s an option more likely to be crossed off the list.”

    It seems with attempts to improve health care for Marylanders sometimes you swing and miss and sometimes you hit a home run.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Being "green" to the end


     I have always thought of myself as "green" but that was in a figurative sense. Now you can be be "green" in a literal sense. How would you like to grow into a tree after you die?  This is a Bios Urn, a completely biodegradable urn that contains a single tree seed. When planted, the tree seed is nourished by and absorbs the nutrients from the ashes. The urn itself is made from coconut shell and contains compacted peat and cellulose. The ashes are mixed with this, and the seed placed inside. You can even choose which type of tree you'd like to grow! This way I also might make it to 6 foot tall!

P.S.
  From Grassroots:

Soup’r Sundae Set for March 30th at Wilde Lake High School

SouprSundae

The Rotary Clubs of Howard County are hosting the sixth annual Soup’r Sundae, a family event featuring soups prepared by area restaurants, as a fundraiser for Grassroots Crisis Intervention Center on Sunday, March 30, from noon-2 p.m., in Wilde Lake High School, 5460 Trumpeter Road, Columbia, MD 21044. Howard County General Hospital is the presenting sponsor. Other sponsorships are still available.

Admission is $20 per adult and $5 per child under 12 and includes unlimited soup and bread and ice cream, which is being provided by Nestle Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream. There will be music and entertainment for children.

Tickets are at souprsundae.eventbrite.com or by contacting cathyvsmith@verizon.net. Tickets will also be available at the door for cash and checks made out to Grassroots.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Strangest political ad since " I am not a witch" ad

 


      This campaign ad has gone viral on Facebook this week.  At first I thought it was a spoof but it is real. Just in case you haven't seen it here it is.  Male United States Senators take note of this possible colleague.  Seems like the woman's movement has taken on a more militant tone to me.

P.S.
   Too bad she thinks that providing health care is the place to cut funding instead of our bloated military budget.  Guess you have to play to your base in Iowa.

P.S. 1
  Just in case you have forgotten Christine O'Donnell's "I am not a witch" campaign ad for the Senate in Delaware here it is again.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Downtown Columbia Path takes shape


     Last night saw a good turnout to hear the latest in the planning from the Toole Design Group for the downtown Columbia path to connect Blandair Park with the Howard County General Hospital.  This new approximately 3 mile path will provide a new recreational path for bikers and walkers through downtown Columbia.


    The path will be built in 3 phases with the first phase connecting Lake Kittamaqundi to Little Patuxent Parkway along Symphony Woods should be completed this year.  The next phase along Little Patuxent Parkway to the Hospital should follow next year.  The final phase through Oakland Mills to Blandair will be the last phase completed hopefully in the next 2-3 years.


     Some of the features of this path will include lighting, signage and rest areas with benches.  Much of the path will have permeable pavement that will allow for rain water to seep through the pavement and prevent runoff.  The more permanent pavement will be on sections of the path with steeper grades.


    One nice feature of the path will be its extra wide width that will allow for usage for both bikers and walkers.  The picture above shows what a 10 ft. width will look like.  Additional there will be a 3-5 foot buffer from road traffic.

P.S.
     Even though we have still had cold and snow this week the County's largest snow pile in the Target parking lot is beginning to show signs that we should be completely snow free in a week or two.  This will officially bring to an end to a winter most of us will be glad to see go.


hocoblogs@@@

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Concussions: Is Lacrosse next?

      First it was boxing that brought to light the effects of blows to the head causing significant brain injury.  Mohammad Ali has unfortunately brought to everyone's attention what this damage can do.  Most parents don't have to face the question of a son taking up boxing.  I don't remember reading about boxing leagues in Columbia. But with the recent death of a football player at the Naval Academy the safety of that sport has also made parents think about whether they would let their sons play this sport. The National Football League has also been struggling with the concussion issue and has made rule changes to try an limit the amount of concussions players suffer.  The issue of the long term impact concussions has been raised by the number of former players who suffer from Alzheimers and other brain impairments as they age.  What is even more concerning is that even only suffering a few concussions can cause significant brain injury. So it is not surprising that recent surveys of mothers has shown that 10-20% of them won't let their sons play football.  I bet the rate would be even higher in Columbia.
   

    Probably more relevant for Maryland is the impact on sports like lacrosse and soccer.  These two sports have cult like followings in our State and County and yet they also have some troubling aspects with it comes to concussions.  A report by the Institute of Medicine stated,

"Among male athletes at the high school and collegiate levels, football, ice hockey, lacrosse, wrestling, and soccer consistently are associated with the highest rates of concussions. Among female athletes, high school and collegiate sports associated with the highest rates of concussions are soccer, lacrosse, basketball, and ice hockey. There has been little research on the frequency of concussions among athletes in intramural and club sports and in athletes younger than high school age."

     Not having a child who played lacrosse I was surprised at the violent nature of the sport when I watched a match last Fall on a field at Rockburn Park.  While the blows to the head like in the picture above maybe unusual I did see the lacrosse stick used in ways that caused me to wonder about the safety of the sport.  Combine that with the cross checking of the body and it made me wonder how much safer this sport was than football.  I certainly know the benefits of having children, especially girls, involved in athletics and team completion but today parents have to rightly balance those benefits with the potential for significant possibility of long term injury. Just another thing for parents to worry about.

hocoblogs@@@

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Howard County school system Vision 2018

      We have all seen the targeted programs to increase student performance in this Country.  No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top and now the Core Curriculum have set goals to improve the educational achievement of students in the United States.  While the Race to the Top and Core Curriculum are still waiting final results the failure of the No Child Left Behind to improve student achievement doesn't seem to lead one to the conclusion that any new curriculum is the answer to why students in our Country seem to lag behind the rest of the world in student achievement.  Any comparison of countries is a little like comparing apples to oranges because of the significant differences in the populations of the countries around the world.  The homogeneous population of some countries in the world make an unfair comparison to our heterogeneous population in the US.
      The Superintendent of the Howard County Schools has released the Vision 2018 plan outlining a direction for the next 5 years.  Like most strategic plans it talks very broadly of the goals for students, educators, families and the community.  On each of these fronts Howard County is fortunate to have excellent resources.  Today I wanted to focus on just one of these areas--the family.  This area is one of the most overlooked areas in student achievement measures.
      Some years ago I was working with a partner to develop a program for Baltimore City grandparents who were raising grandchildren in some of the most challenging neighborhoods in the City.  The grandchildren attending schools in these neighborhoods faced challenges that were significantly more difficult than most children in Howard County.  Violence, crime and disrupted families were a fact of life for many of these children.  Our program had worked with one school for 5 year old children to prepare them for kindergarten.  We met with the grandparents to insure that their grandchildren attended the school with few absences, did their homework and had grandparents reading to their grandchildren.  We gave the grandparents books from the Baltimore Book Bank to insure that each home had books.  The principle of the school saw how our work with the grandparents had increased the attendance rate for the grandchildren and she asked us to work with the single mothers for some of the other students. Almost none of the children attending this school came from two parent households. She explained how she was being constantly evaluated on student attendance and didn't have many resources to work with many of the single parents.
    So how does this issue translate to Howard County?  We must seem light years ahead of the school I mentioned in the last paragraph.  We have a highly educated, high income population heavy with professionals.  Certainly children coming from these families enter our schools much better prepared than most other communities.  Parent involvement a problem in Howard County---land of the "helicopter parent?" For many of our high performing schools parent involvement is probably a non-issue.  But we have some schools that have students who may not come from families which have the same focus on education.  My question in reading the Vision 2018 plan is how the school system will identify ways to enhance the school preparedness for students from these families.  While we are in much better shape than the challenges faced by the schools in Baltimore City it is an important question for which our schools should plan as we see more divergent student scores at schools in Howard County.

hocoblogs@@@

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Seeing the world the way we want it

 
  If you have seen the movie "Moneyball" you know how long held beliefs can drive our actions and beliefs even when they are not proven by the facts.  In "Moneyball" a managers judgement in making baseball decisions was based on his own bias and not by what the statistics showed.  Managers have always favored certain theories of what makes a winning team.  Remember how Earl Weaver of the Orioles always wanted the 3 run homer as the key to baseball success?  He would set up his lineup to get a couple of guys with the ability to get on base and follow them up with a player who could hit the home run. When statisticians run the numbers the factor that decided games was the number of players a team got on base.  So selecting players who had the best on base percentage would win the most games.
 

   We now have a similar resource for determining outcomes in the political world.  Nat Silver, a statistician, who correctly predicted the results of the 2012 Presidential election in all 50 states now hosts a webpage/blog that uses stats to predict political races.  He calls it FiveThirtyEight for the number of electors there are in a Presidential election.  What he does is to look at a wide range of polls in the past to determine which were the best predictors of the final outcome.  As a statistician he develops an algorithm using those polls to determine future outcomes.  As a statistician he uses hard data that is not impacted by bias.  This method is better than relying on political pundits who have large biases in their predictions. Pundits really do want to see the world through their own biases and are often wrong.  Check out Nat's predictions for the 2014 Senate races.  

hocopolitics@@@

Monday, March 24, 2014

Are village centers still viable?

    Think back 40 to 50 years ago when the village center concept was developed.  The only choices for grocery shopping were in the village centers.  Hardware store? Only in a village center.  Today our choices for groceries have greatly expanded to Wegman's, Costco, BJ's and soon Whole Foods.  My own grocery shopping is very diversified and I only use the local Giant to pick up a few items a couple times a week instead of for my weekly shopping.  Home Depot and Lowes are now the places for hardware.


      Walk around many of our older village centers and you see leasing signs like the one pictured above in the Owen Brown Village Center.  This space has been unoccupied for a few years and it doesn't seem to be a viable location for a business needing this sized space.  Even the movement to have the Long Reach Village Center labeled  "distressed" shows how the village center concept is being reworked.
      Tomorrow night, Tuesday March 25th from 7-9 p.m., the second public meeting of the “Columbia Market Analysis and Economic Development Services” study will be held at Slayton House (10400 Cross Fox Lane, Columbia, MD, 21044). The consultants will discuss some of the initial market findings they've uncovered for the village centers and GE-Dobbin Road-Snowden River Parkway corridors. As explained in a press release from CA:
    "This study is a collaborative effort between Columbia Association (CA), Howard County Economic Development Authority and Howard County Department of Planning and Zoning. Thestudy will evaluate current and projected demand for development in Columbia’s village centers, as well as an interrelated analysis of the Dobbin Road/Snowden River Parkway/former General Electric manufacturing area."
     "The study began in late October 2013 and is anticipated to be completed by April 30, 2014. This study is part of a continued focus on Columbia’s village centers. In 2009, the Howard County Council adopted new regulations to promote revitalization of Columbia’s village centers. During the development of the Howard County General PlanHoward, CA worked with the county to include a recommendation in the plan for a village center market study."

    Some of the changes impacting our village centers are also showing up with the enclosed malls.  These malls were the future of retailing when they were first developed in the 1950's and 1960's.   They evolved as retail hubs moving from the smaller unenclosed strip malls.  The development of the interstate highways during this period of time led to the development of suburban communities and enclosed malls far from the downtown retail stores. This retailing trend has now run its course and is shown by the fact that no new enclosed malls have been built in the US since 2006.  This cycle was shown very well in a segment on the CBS Sunday Morning show this past week.



    Our own Columbia Mall seems to be weathering the changing retail scene better than other malls in our area such as the Laurel Mall and the Owings Mills Mall.   But even at our Mall the picture above shows how some of the new realities are impacting the Mall.
 Opening up the Mall may only be the first step in the evolving of our Mall similar to what is happening to the previously mentioned malls.

P.S.
     It is hard to underestimate the impact of online shopping on retail shopping.  Why go to a local store when the internet has opened up the world for merchandise?  It is becoming common that you go to a retail store to see a product and then use your smartphone to see what the price is online and then order it from the online merchant.  Retail merchants only become merchandise showrooms.

hocoblogs@@@

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Bird mystery solved


      Last Thursday I blogged on some blue birds that I have seen on the bike path that parallels Dobbin Road.  I thought they were too big to be blue birds.  I had only seen them when I had my smart phone camera.  Yesterday I took my camera out to see if I could get some good pictures of the birds and confirm what they were.


    As you can see from the shots I got they are blue birds that are bigger than I thought these birds could be.


Saturday, March 22, 2014

Celebrating Columbia's diversity

I The Build Haiti Foundation
    I wanted to mention a couple of upcoming events that celebrates our community's diversity.  The first one is about a celebration on the one year anniversary of the World Languages Cafe at Wegman's.  Here is the information I received from the Columbia Association about the Cafe:

"¡Feliz Aniversario! CA’s World Languages Café Celebrates One Year of Conversation and Culture, Meets Again March 26

Joyeux anniversaire. Feliz aniversario. Schönes jubiläum. Columbia Association’s (CA) World Languages Café program is celebrating a year of providing great evenings of conversation and culture in 15 different languages.

Thanks to the continuing partnership and support from Wegmans, the World Languages Café provides community members with a great place to speak a language they know or are learning, to converse in a friendly atmosphere, meet new people who enjoy learning about other cultures, increase their fluency by speaking and listening, pick up useful phrases to use when traveling, and recall their childhood languages.

The World Languages Café meets on the fourth Wednesday of the month at the Wegmans Café, located at 8855 McGaw Road in Columbia. The next session is on March 26 from 7 to 9 p.m. People are invited to come upstairs and join the language table of their choice, whether they want to drop in or stay the entire time. On their way up, people can purchase a drink, snack or dinner from Wegmans to bring with them. The anniversary of the World Languages Café will be celebrated at 8 p.m. with cake.

Languages include Arabic, Chinese, Dutch, English, Farsi, French, German, Hebrew, Hindi, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish. Language tables are hosted by native speakers who will facilitate conversation; these gatherings are not grammar or vocabulary classes.

To find out if there will be a native speaker of the language you are interested in practicing, or for more information, please contact CA’s International Exchange and Multicultural Programs Manager, Laura Smit, at 410-715-3162 or Laura.Smit@ColumbiaAssociation.org. "


    The second event is sponsored by the Build Haiti Foundation about their celebration on April 2.  Here is the information on that event:

th Annual
4th Annual
Remember Haiti Event:
“Celebrate Haitian Culture”
Saturday, April 5, 2014
6PM – 9PM

The Wilde Lake Interfaith Center
10431 Twin Rivers Road, Room 4
Columbia, Maryland 21044
(410) 730-7920


Purchase tickets at www.thebuildhaitifoundation.org



hocoblogs@@@

Friday, March 21, 2014

What color is your vegetable?

    We all know that we should eat more vegetables these days.  But sometimes vegetables can be boring.  One way to spice up eating vegetables is to look for something a little different.  By different I mean color.  Seems like growers are cross pollinating vegetables to get some different colors.  I can't say that they taste different then their regular colored cousins.  Here are some examples I have found on some recent shopping trips.


Maroon carrots at Wegman's


White eggplant also at Wegman's


Multi-color cauliflower from Asian market


To go with the vegetables how about some black rice?

hocofood@@@

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Bird mystery in Columbia

      When it comes to bird watching I know very little.  Hawks are big and wrens are small.  Getting beyond that level of bird knowledge is beyond me.  But recently on walks along the bike path that parallels Dobbin Road I have noticed birds that are blue and that I can't really identify.  I am familiar with blue birds and know that they are small and have a rust colored breast like the picture below.


    The birds I have been seeing along the bike path are bigger than a wren and only slightly smaller than a robin.   Looking in a bird book I have come across the Black Throated Blue Warbler like the one pictured below.

    Unfortunately every time I have seen these birds I have only had my cell phone to take a picture and the zoom on the phone doesn't give a picture with good resolution.  Does anyone know how common these warblers are in our area? Can blue birds get large enough to be fooling me into thinking they are some other type of bird?

hocoblogs@@@

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Putting a face on the minimum wage debate

 


     For many of us the minimum wage, food stamp, overtime payment and earned income tax credit debate is something we only hear political pundits debate on cable television.  Each side has talking points that are repeated  ad nauseam.  Thanks to a Facebook post from Tom Coale it is worth taking an hour to put a human face on the issues.  Tom posted about a HBO documentary that does just that.
     While the young woman in the documentary was from a different part of the Country the problems are similar to families living in Howard County.  Information from a 2009 report from the Policy Analysis Center showed that in Howard County from 2007 to 2009 Temporary Cash Assistance increased by19%, Food Stamps by 35%, Free Student Lunches by 13%, Energy Assistance Grants by 234% and Eviction Prevention Assistance by 40%.  While 2009 represented a time during our recent recession (is it really over?) the increases show that even in our wealthy community a number of families still struggle with managing their family finances.

P.S.
   Thanks to Lisa Schlossnagle for this info.
   This chart is from a report titled "Making Ends Meet in Howard County"

hocoblogs@@@

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Howard County Bike Master Plan

   

     Howard County released its Bike Master Plan last week.  This plan is the result of the work of a variety of Howard County agencies and bike advocates.  The plan lists 62 potential improvements to many of the roads in the County.  Widening and better marking are frequently mentioned in the road improvements.  This is particularly true with many of the 2 lanes roads in the western part of Howard County.  These roads have always been popular with bikers but the increased traffic on these roads due to the increased housing in this area of the County has made these roads less safe for bikers.  I remember biking these roads back in the 1980's on Sunday mornings and having very little traffic with which to contend.  This is no longer the case.  Roads such as Homewood, Tridelphia, Sheppard's Lane and Folly Quarter are now much more heavily traveled then 30 years ago.
     The total cost of the improvements is considerable.  From a low cost of $10,000 for minor road marking to many improvements which cost well over a million dollars the investment costs of implementing many of these improvements is considerable.  Time frames for the process to evaluate and implement improvements are generally in the 2-5 year area.  A recommendation was made to have $750,000 annually included in the capital budget to implement recommendations of the Bike Master Plan.   Other recommendations are to have hire a full time Bike and Pedestrian Coordinator for the County and to develop a Bike Howard Implementation Team led by a senior staffer from County Administration.

P.S.
    With the cost of many of the plans recommendation I would hope that the relatively inexpensive lining of bike lanes on many of Columbia's roads which are already wide enough for bike lanes would be a priority.  The present lines are designed to show on street parking areas that are infrequently used.  I have blogged on this change before.

P.S. 1
  I was disappointed to not see the Patuxent River Trail Extension listed in any of the proposed improvements.

hocoblogs@@@

Monday, March 17, 2014

From Columbine to Columbia

     Fourteen years ago when we all heard about the shooting of students at a high school in Columbine, Colorado we never thought that that shooting would be connected with a shooting in Columbia.  Last week in a press conference Police Chief William J. McMahon spoke of how the shooter at the Columbia Mall had researched shooting at a variety of schools and malls.  In timing his shooting for 11:15 am he seems to have connected his act to Columbine which also occurred at 11:15 am.  This may explain why he was in the Mall for over an hour before he started shooting.
    

         When the shooting occurred at the Mall most of us had thoughts of how often we have been in the same area of the Mall.  How many times we have taken our grandchildren to ride the carousel on a rainy day.  When I saw the picture above I immediately recognized the bench the shooter was passing as the same bench my family sat on as we waited to have our family pictures taken at the Mall on a Saturday morning only a little more than month before.
       Last week's news conference held by the Howard County Police gave us some information about the shooter and his actions that day.  His motive for choosing the Mall and his victims is still unclear except his intent was to shoot and kill people before committing suicide. A copy of the note taken from one of the shooter's notebooks shows the writing of a very troubled young person.


    As a society we still struggle with how to prevent this type of action by troubled young men.  What is it about young men that these feelings can only be relieved by the killing of other innocent people?  Police Chief McMahon spoke of how the stigma of mental illness still prevents many people from obtaining treatment.  This reality along with the limited insurance payments for receiving mental health treatment leaves us as a society vulnerable to some people acting violently.  Add to this our entitlement to own guns and we have a long way to go in addressing how to prevent these violent incidences.
    The reality of addressing how to identify and treat individuals with mental illness in many cases begins many years before the violent acts.  Looking back at the life of the troubled person the signs of problem behaviors on then become apparent.  Hoping that the young person will eventually "grow out of it" or writing off aggressive behavior as just "boys will be boys" only gives us the excuse of inaction.
     Although nothing that we know about the Mall shooter indicates that he was bullied we do know addressing bullying is important in addressing many of these violent acts.  Howard County Schools and Government is to be commended for developing an Anti-Bullying Initiative. Police Chief McMahon also spoke about the County's actions to address the needs of persons with mental health issues by the development of Mobile Crisis Team to respond to any incident that has a mental health issue.  This team operating in connection with the Grassroots Crisis Intervention Center provides Howard County with a level of coordination between mental health professionals and the Police Department that is a model for other communities.  The Howard County Mental Health Authority has a resource guide to a comprehensive list of mental health resources in Howard County.  The Family and Children's Services of Howard County at 410-997-3557 and NAMI-Howard County 410-772-9300  are two good places to start if you are trying to get someone mental health treatment and family support.

P.S.
     I think we should be proud of how well the Howard County Police and Columbia Mall employees have been trained to handle situations like the January shooting.  The fact that the Police have worked closely with the Mall management and have trained often in the Mall for just such an incident undoubtedly helped to make the situation from being a worse tragedy.

P.S.1
     You can debate the effectiveness of gun control laws all you want but the fact that the shooter in the Columbia Mall only shot nine times with a shotgun as opposed to 188 shots fired with automatic weapons in Columbine and 154 shots fired in 5 minutes in the New Town massacre does point to the importance of controlling the access to automatic weapons and large bullet clips for those weapons.  I can never understand how we can outlaw citizens from owning machine guns but not automatic weapons.

hocoblogs@@@

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Polynesian Chicken Salad


     On a recent trip to Florida I had a chicken salad that was different and very good.  I asked the waitress if I could have the recipe and this is what she gave me. She didn't give me the amounts of each ingredient because they make it in such a large quantity. She just said that I should make the recipe to my taste. Pictured above was what I made this week which followed that recipe.

1) Shred chicken
2) Chop tomato, pickles, pineapple
3) Mix mayonnaise and coconut milk in equal amounts
4) Add a couple table spoons of pineapple juice
5) Add curry powder to taste
6) Mix all the ingredients and let it set in refrigerator for 2 hours for flavors to blend

hocofood@@@

Friday, March 14, 2014

Is bottled water the 21st Century pet rock?

    Remember the Pet Rock crazy back in the 1970's?  This marketing scheme was developed by a marketer by the name of Dahl who became a millionaire by marketing these pet rocks as the perfect gift for Christmas 1975.  As crazy as it sounds it showed how far a clever marketing campaign could be developed for something that no one needed.  I was reminded of the pet rocks recently when I walked down the beverage aisle of my local Giant.   The marketing gimmicks to get people to buy something we get for free from our taps is eye opening.  Here are some of the marketing approaches I saw.


   The bottled water craze was originally marketed for purity and many names suggested that the water came from mountain springs.  However it is estimated that about 25% of the bottled water sold comes from public water systems. This includes two popular brands of Aquafina and Desani from Coke and Pepsi.


   I am not sure how "vapor distilling and adding electrolytes" makes this water smarter than other water. If you think that buying this water will make you smarter you have already made a statement on your intelligence.


    Are there waters that lead to an "impure life?"


Who needs to eat fruits and vegetables when you can drink this water and get 84 essential minerals?


Drink this vitamin water with the above shown mineral water and you can feel OK about eating that McDonald's Big Mac for lunch.  You already have your nutrition covered for the day.



     Adding electrolytes seems to be a big selling point with waters.  Don't you know that it is just adding salt to regular water?


     Not getting enough caffeine from your daily Starbucks coffee?  Fill up on this caffeinated water.


   Finally if you haven't come up with a unique additive to water why not just market a cool looking shaped bottle like the one above?
    With what we are doing polluting our air are we just a few years away from some marketer coming up with bottled air from some mountain location?  Maybe even package it in a cool looking tank designed by a celebrity. With commercials playing songs from the Sound of Music in the background.  Is Julie Andrews still alive?

P.S.
   
    
     Celebrate "Pi Day" 3/14 with Tom Coale at Linden Hall tonight at 7 pm.  Click here for tickets to this fundraiser for Tom's campaign for Delegate.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Can you hear me now?

     Am I the only one who has noticed all the full page ads in the Baltimore Sun for hearing aids?  No wonder hearing aids can cost thousands of dollars.  Those full page ads on the pricey back pages of newspaper sections don't come cheap. Newspapers are still the right type of media because of their readership skewing to an older demographic.  I mean who under 40 still gets a daily newspaper? I guess I shouldn't be surprised now that the Baby Boomers are getting old.
      As someone who had hearing loss develop in my left ear in my 30's I know how hearing loss can impact someone.  I have trouble hearing in restaurants with the background noise and I always try to position myself to the right of someone talking to me so that I can hear with my good ear.  This is a real problem when I am driving and the radio is on.  The one time I tried on hearing aids for someone with my type of hearing loss I thought everything sounded like it was coming out of a transistor radio.  This isn't surprising as the hearing aid in my good ear was designed to transmit the sound to the aid in my bad ear at an amplified level.  I decided my coping mechanisms with my hearing loss was preferable to hearing the world through a transistor radio.
      The media for advertisers of other products directed at the Baby Boomers it also noticeable in the ads on any nightly news program.  Reverse mortgages with former teen TV stars (really Fonzie, have you no shame?) and drugs for conditions that older people just had to live with in the past now are wall to wall on the news programs.  I have blogged before on this reality and have always been amazed at how there now are drugs for the most intimate problems of growing older.  I love the ones for adult diapers by actors and sport figures who start out by saying "I don't need this product but........."  These first seemed directed at women but now I am starting to see the ads directed at men.  The only ads funnier are the ones directed at men who have lost their "potency."   I bet many of the older women in the past looked at this men's developing problem with relief.  They probably are not thrilled with the products now marketed for these problems.  It's a relief to know that this potency problem only occurs with men who have a week's worth of stubble on their face, own horses and still drive a 1960's Mustang convertible.
    Oh, for the days when these were the types of commercials aimed at our age demographic.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

It "ain't" your great grandparents Country anymore

    We happen to live in one of the most "blue (i.e. Democrat)" counties in one of the most bluest states in the United States.  But we only have to travel to one of our neighboring counties or states to see how different the rest of our Country is.  I blogged recently about this fact after travelling through some Southern states on a recent trip to Florida.  Then last week I saw on Buzz Feed some maps that showed the 2012 Presidential election in a different light.  It showed how the outcome of our last election would have been different if it had been held in the past.  Just look at some of the maps below to see the different results.

This map shows the results (red Romney, blue Obama) if only white men had been allowed to vote as would have been the case before the 15th Amendment allowing black men to vote in 1870. 

This map shows the result if only men had been allowed to vote as would have been the case before the women were allowed to vote with the 19th Amendment approved in 1920.


     With the 26th Amendment the voting age was lowered to 18 from 21 in 1971.  This map shows a much closer race when only those over 24 were voting.

       Finally the map above shows the actual results of the 2012 election.  The demographic changes in our Country shown in the maps above show the challenges to any national party (guess which one?) that ignores these changes.

hocopolitics@@@

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The last, really last, vestige of Winter

   A few years ago when we had the two monster February snows I noticed something that has made me look for the last signs of Winter each year.  That year one of the snow removal companies had to dump the extra snow over the bank behind the parking lot they cleared.  Unfortunately this extra snow created a mountain of snow that covered the path along Dobbin Road on which I run regularly.  I wondered how long I would have to run around this pile before it melted.  With the melting and freezing that occurred in March that year the "snow mountain" turned to ice which made it last even longer.  I monitored the snow pile for a couple of months before it finally disappeared completely on April 15th-tax day.  Each year since then I have looked for another snow mountain left in a parking lot to see how long it takes to melt away and take the last signs of winter with it.  With this weekend's warm weather we hopefully have seen the snow ground cover leave most areas and the grass should soon start to become green again. But before we see these signs of Spring I want to nominate my choice this year for the last snow pile in Howard County to melt. This is the one pictured below in the parking lot of Target.


    To get a really good one to follow you have to find a large parking lot where they use a front end loader to build these mountains of snow.  I will monitor this Mt. Target and report how long it lasts.  I don't think it will beat the April 15th date.  If you know of any snow piles in our County that may beat Mt. Target let me know

P.S.
 
 
  Another sign of the changing seasons is what is for sale outside of Wegman's this week.  Last week they had snow shovels and rock salt.

hocoblogs@@@

Monday, March 10, 2014

How to you spell "q-u-a-d-r-e-f-i-d?"

    How many of us could spell "quadrefid" correctly?  That word was the winning word for 8th grader Megan Rabe in Friday night's 2014 Spelling Bee at Reservoir High School.  I don't know about you but I couldn't spell correctly with out spell check.  When my Word spell check can't find a word I use Google to find the correct spelling.  Our English language has words from so many other languages that spelling and pronunciation rules make it difficult to know the correct spelling of so many of our words.  Those French words in our common vocabulary always throw me off.  I never get "hors d'oeuvres" right.
       Being a Board Member of the Friends of Howard County Library I wanted to experience each of our sponsored A+ events this year.   What I experienced Friday night started out with trying to find a parking space as Reservoir High School.  I finally had to park in the lot of the middle school next door.  I am thrilled that there is this much interest and participation in an academic activity and not just a sporting event.   This says a lot about Howard County.


Spellers get started early as the picture above shows with the winners from grades 1-3.


    When the competition started over 60 of the winners from the County schools began the competition to determine the County champion to go to this year's National Spelling Bee in DC.  Four hours later Ms. Rabe was crowned.  Audrey Lin will be the first runner up alternate.  The next A+ event will be the Battle of the Books where students read books from a selected list of books and then battle each other to answer questions about the books. The event will be April 4th.
    If you ever needed a reason to become a member of the Friends of the Howard County Library, watching one of the A+ events will make you a believer in the value of our Library.

hocoblogs@@@