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Saturday, December 29, 2012

A cartoon to which every parent can relate

   One of the joys of parenthood is experiencing the challenges of dining with your young children.  I wish Red Robin had been around when our kids were young because the choices we had were very limited.  Somehow we usually ended up at the old Friendly's in Dobbin Center.  The thing I remember most from those frequent visits was that one of the girls would spill their drink.  Seems like cups with lids were thought of after our kids grew up.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Balsamic Vinegar: What you probaby don't know

      After having such a difficult last week with the school killings and the gun control debate I wanted to get back to something a little lighter for the holiday season.
    Up until a year ago, like most people, I knew very little about balsamic vinegar other than it was vinegar that was aged in wooden casks like wine.   Its taste was stronger and more complex than regular red vinegar.  But then I tasted some balsamic vinegar at my daughter's that was unlike any other balsamic vinegar that I had tasted.
     The picture above is the balsamic vinegar my daughter had which she purchased at Williams-Sonoma's in the Columbia Mall.  Instead of the tartness and bitterness of the normal balsamic vinegar this vinegar had a slightly sweet flavor.  Nothing had been added to this vinegar but the taste was the result of longer aging for 25 years.  Most balsamic vinegar is aged only a few years.  This extra long aging does come with a cost.  The bottle above is $29.  However you only have to add a little to any recipe or mixing with olive oil in making a great salad dressing.  I probably have used 3/4 of the bottle in the last 10 months.  Given that I now use balsamic vinegar in more recipes than I used to this is not an extravagant purchase.  This past summer my favorite use was to mix the vinegar with some olive oil on the tomatoes I grew.  Sometimes I would add some fresh basil and mozzarella or goat cheese.
  The picture above is a balsamic vinegar that I have found at Wegman's that is an above average balsamic vinegar.  Not nearly as good as the Oliver balsamic but at only $11 a bottle it works well for using as a marinade or to add to tomato sauce for a richer flavor.  I usually a teaspoon of this balsamic vinegar and two tablespoons of beef broth to my homemade spaghetti or pizza sauces. #hocofood

     I had heard long ago that in Italy a popular wedding gift to give to the bride is a well aged balsamic vinegar.  We aren't talking about the kind most of us know but vinegar that has been aged for 30 to 50 years and can cost hundreds of dollars.   It shows how much Italian cooks value balsamic vinegar in their cooking.

   Balsamic vinegar reduction is a great glaze on a variety of meats.  Reduce balsamic vinegar in a pan by heating it.  Add either honey or maple syrup to the reduction just before taking it off the stove and use it to brush on grilled chicken or fish (especially good with salmon).  Makes even hamburgers great after grilling.

P.S. 2
Taking a break from blogging until the next year.  Leaving you with my favorite Christmas music.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Things that only get advertised at holiday time

   The past 2 weeks I have been hearing the NPR commercials (what commercial mention NPR has) for pajamagrams.  Pictured above is this year's special "hoodie/footie" model.  I wonder what about the average NPR listener that would make them the ideal customer for a product like this?  I know that a mention on NPR is probably cheaper than other forms of advertising but I can't help but think that the average NPR listener is more sophisticated then to wear something like this to bed.  It got me thinking about the other stupid products that are advertised only at Christmas.
   We have always had the infamous Chia Pets but this year you can celebrate the President's re-election with his very own Chia Pet!  I can't help but think that most of these are given as gag gifts or white elephant gifts.  I only wish I would have seen these in time to give to all the Republican members of my family!
   I miss the annual commercials of the old woman laying in bed showing how the clapper works.  Have all the customers for this product died off??
    Growing up I actually received the Hess trucks for Christmas from my grandparents.  I wish I have saved them as a complete set would probably be worth something these days.
    Harvey's Bristol Cream this year has an innovative commercial with women dancers in cream colored dresses filmed like an old Busby Berkeley  dance routine.
  Who could forget the old commercials of Santa sliding down the snow on the head of a Norelco shaver?

A trick the Mayans are playing on us today!

Bet you have never seen this sharp a picture of Mt. Everest.  Move the arrows and magnification buttons to zero in on the picture.

P.S. 2
  After the performance of the Ravens the past 3 weeks many of us are counting the days till the opening of Spring training for the Orioles.  This is the reverse of how these things have always worked in the past.

P.S. 3
From the HoCo Library

Meet The Author: Dr. Gordon Livingston. Dr. Livingston discusses his latest book, The Thing You Think You Cannot Do: Thirty Truths About Fear and Courage. His trademark gifts provide readers everywhere with a much-needed alternative to the trial-and-error learning that makes wisdom such an expensive commodity. 01/15/13 7:00 PM Central Branch
Meet The Author: Dr. Gordon Livingston.  Dr. Livingston discusses his latest book, The Thing You Think You Cannot Do: Thirty Truths About Fear and Courage. His trademark gifts provide readers everywhere with a much-needed alternative to the trial-and-error learning that makes wisdom such an expensive commodity. 01/15/13  7:00 PM  Central Branch

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Is Howard County Executive a dead end job?

     As the possible Democratic candidates for Governor grew smaller with Comptroller Franchot dropping out of the race the remaining candidates (Gansler, Brown, Mizeur) still all seem to have a Washington suburban orientation except our County Executive Ken Ulman.  While Howard County shares the dual orientation to both DC and Baltimore regions this would seem to open up a strategy to be seen as the remaining non Mongomery/PG candidate.
      A Republican from Howard County seems to stand a better chance than a Democratic County Executive.  A few years ago Chuck Ecker considered a run for Governor but settled for becoming School Superintendent of the Carroll County School System. Our former Police Chief, Paul Rappaport, also tried to run for Governor as a Republican.
     The advancement of previous HoCo Democratic County Execs to statewide office show how difficult it is to not be the candidate from one of the two large Democratic voting blocks. Liz Bobo got appointed to a State job before joining the State Legislature as a Delegate. Hugh Nichols moved out of the County for a private job before his term even ended. Jim Robey was elected to the Maryland Senate.  Ed Cochran went back to being a chemist. This situation was not the case back in the 1800's when Howard County was the home of John Eagar Howard, Edwin Warfield and Thomas Ligon when all became Maryland Governors.  They all also have a County office building named after them.
     Now that Howard County has approximately half the population of Baltimore City shouldn't the HoCo County Exec stand at least half the chance of becoming Governor as the Mayor of Baltimore.  Given the Governors who have come out of the Baltimore region (i.e. Marvin Mandel, Spiro Agnew) and the trials and tribulations of the previous Mayors of Baltimore (i.e. Sheila Dixon) and the County Execs of PG County (i.e. Jack Johnson) maybe Maryland would benefit by considering a candidate from the good government County--Howard County.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Somehow little kids make it different

      Somehow even the most contentious issues take on a different tone when little kids are introduced into the discussion.  The shootings in Connecticut show how the discussion of gun rights have changed in the last week.  Who would have believed how things have just changed in a week.  This is most dramatically shown in the example of how the Michigan Legislature last Thursday passed a law to permit people to carry concealed guns into schools.  This was just hours before the Connecticut shootings. Now even the strongest supporters of the 2nd Amendment struggle to defend the right to own an assault rifle when the images of 6 and 7 year old kids are being shown.  Elected representatives with A ratings by the NRA are finally unable to defend their former positions.  The assault rifle used in Connecticut was like the one used in Aurora and the Washington sniper incidents ten years ago.  Everyday young adults are killed all across our Country by weapons designed for military use. Somehow the killing of adults, even young adults, doesn't have as powerful an impact as the killing of  six year old children.  Images of small children go to the heart of every parent and grandparent. 
     We have all seen a similar impact with the issue of gay marriage.  Somehow the issue didn't have the same impact when it was seen as an issue of two adults being able to marry.  Throw in some pictures of flamboyant gays in a parade and you had images that turned off many conservative persons to the issue of gay marriage.   But now the image that elected officials have been presented is one like the image above of two parents raising children in a typical family relationship.  They are no different then any other couple struggling with the complexities of being a parent.  The issue is changed from of what goes on in the bedroom  to one of potty training and other childhood issues.  Even conservatives can relate to these families.

     There is a Snowflake Drive for the students of Sandy Hook Elementary to turn their new school into a winter wonderland.  Like our children, no two snowflakes are alike. You are invited to create snowflakes to decorate Sandy Hook School’s new home.  All colors and designs are welcome. You can mail your snowflakes to Connecticut PTSA, 60 Connolly Parkway, Building 12, Suite 103, Hamden, CT 06514, by January 12, 2013. 

Monday, December 17, 2012

Another reminder of how educators are heroes

     Like many people this weekend I couldn't escape the wall to wall coverage of the shootings which took place last Friday.  Somehow this incidence took on a powerful reminder to all of us that we place our children in the hands of educators in our schools for a significant amount of their early lives.  Having had our children go through the Howard County school system I can vouch for the wonderful teachers and other personnel in our local schools.
      Their care, love and concern for our children was so apparent with every interaction we had with them.  I was reminded of this when I heard the tragic stories of how the six adults in the Sandy Hook school gave their lives in an attempt to save the lives of the children in their school.
    I know that any of the teachers I met in our local schools would do the same thing to save their children.   It is appropriate to use the words "their children" because that is how they viewed the children whom they taught.
   But they do so much more than teach our children their ABC's, they give them love and caring that reinforces the love we give our children in our homes.
    If you see a teacher or any school personnel today tell them how much you appreciate all that they do and for choosing to work in such a noble profession.

    Somehow listening to residents talk about Newtown you couldn't help but think about the similarities to Columbia.  Even its name implied a town that was designed to be different.  What the residents of their town talked about was what we would be saying about our town if the tragedy had happened here.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

What animals teach us

  With the sadness around the Conneticut tragedy this week I thought we could use something to make us smile this morning.  I have seen this video a few times in the past but it is always one that makes me smile

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Words fail me today

    Yesterday at 10 am when the school shooting in Connecticut was occurring I was in the Columbia Mall having our family picture taken with five of our grandsons and their parents.  My grandsons range in age from one month to 7 years old.  Somehow looking at those pictures today makes me grieve even more for those families that have lost their children. Because of the ages and innocence of the children killed yesterday somehow this tragedy is even more hard to come to terms with than other shootings.
     I know that over the next few days people will express their opinions to explain this tragedy.  Gun advocates will talk about how it is not guns but the shooter.  Those on the Religious Right will talk about how it is because we have taken God out of the schools.  Opponents of gun ownership (including myself) will think the solution is to make gun ownership more controlled.  Somehow making a political statement today seems to be inappropriate in comparison to mourning with those families who have been so impacted  by this tragedy.  I would hope we could leave the politics out of our discussions for a few days.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Nothing's simple anymore

   With the opening this week of the Ale House it reminded me how times have changed. Beer drinkers now have Frisco's and the Ale House.  Wine drinkers have Iron Bridge and Aida Bistro.  Remember when you  went to a restaurant for the food and the beer choices were limited to Budweiser and Coors?  When a restaurant offered wine it was a choice between a house red and a house white?  When ordering a cup of coffee was not a choice between a Tall, Grande, Venti or Trenta? And no one had ever heard of a cappuccino!  Now you may think I am just an old out-of-date old person who longs for the "good old days."  I am exactly the opposite.  Bring on the new models with more choices than the same old bland choices.  I hope the Ale House sticks around longer than the other restaurants that have been in that location.  Or at least until the next marketing trend in restaurants.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

What will Columbia become in the next 50 years?

    On Tuesday I attended the opening of the Columbia Archives exhibit on how the Rouse Company went about securing the land to develop Columbia.  That process started fifty years ago in 1962.  At the time Howard County was mostly a rural county with a  population of about 30,000 caught between two large metropolitan areas.  How times have changed.  We now have a population closing in on 300,000, over ten times as large. We have become one of the wealthiest counties in the country and make many "Best of" listings.
    In reading the minutes of the planning groups, which Rouse brought together to plan the new city, you can't help but notice how different today's realities are from the ones in the early 1960's.  Fifty years ago the county had a mostly homogeneous white population with a small African American population that faced discrimination in many ways in the County.  When the plans for diversity of the Columbia population was discussed then it referred to integration of the races.  Today diversity is mostly about integration of foreign born populations.  Back then there was discussion of Columbia women as primarily stay at home mothers and how the community could support the needs of these moms and help then transition once this role ended.  Today Columbia mothers may stay at home for short periods of time but most are in the workforce while raising children.  Not surprisingly in the early 1960's most of these planning groups were made up of white men.  It would have been hard to find any women in any role in the first 10 years of Columbia's development.
   Over the next 5 years leading up to 2107 and the 50th anniversary of the first residents moving into Columbia the Archives will be celebrating and documenting other parts of the establishment of Columbia.  It will be interested to reflect on how our town (city?) developed.  This experiment in planning a community was what drew many of us to Columbia.  But in thinking about how we got here I couldn't help but think of how Columbia will grow in the next 50 years.  I know we will see the effort to have an expanded "downtown" and increased commercial development.  But without the vision created by Jim Rouse and the Rouse Company I am not sure how the issues of affordable housing and encouraging diversity in all forms will occur.  I can hear many of you saying that I am just one of those old timers who is stuck in an outdated position of thinking that nothing positive has happened in our community since the death of Jim Rouse.  I know that if Jim Rouse was developing Columbia today it would be significantly different than the ideas of the 1960's.  I am not sure that an enclosed Columbia Mall would be the anchor of Town Center.  But I do think that the development of a "vital, dynamic community for its residents" would still be at the center of the planning process.  This aspect of the planning for our community was brought home to me a few years back when I heard a housing developer for a development along Route 1 taking about how the development was developed with the residents in mind.  It wasn't going to be just a normal housing development but one that had many ways for its resident to interact with each other.  The only problem was that sideways were not in the plans. To get from one residential area to another you would have to walk on the streets or the parking areas.  It didn't seem if the planning process had included anyone outside the developer's company.
    I couldn't help but leave the Archives open house thinking that the next 50 years might be less visionary in defining Columbia as an unique community and that we might look more like any other upper income suburban community in this Country.  Will there be a developer interested in building affordable "starter" homes and not just mini mansions?  Will "walkability" be a goal along with greater density?  Will a drive through Columbia look different than a drive through any other city with 100,000 population?  What will define Columbia as being different?

    Seeing the Horizon Foundation dumping sand, representing sugar, in the parking lot of a local school I am glad they didn't choose to represent another common sweetener-- corn syrup.  Not sure if the Columbia Association could have found a use for that substance!

P.S. 1
From a new progressive effort in Maryland:

Saturday, December 15th, 3:30 – 5:30 PM, 
1405 Berwick Rd., Towson, MD 21204  (home of Joe Adams) 
Refreshments.  RSVP at  or 1-410-231-3323

Get Money Out – Maryland ,,    is a new group of people fighting, in Maryland, for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution overturning the ‘Citizens United’ supreme court decision.  We are also considering related strategies such as The American Anti-Corruption Act, which has been written not by legislators but by citizens, with a quarter of a million ‘citizen co-sponsors’ thus far. We are inspired by national organizations such as Free Speech For People, Move to Amend, Public Citizen, Inc.,,, etc.

This will be both an informational and planning meeting.  We need your input.

Save the Date:
January 10, 6:30 pm, 33rd Street YMCA – Attend a Get Money Out – Maryland meeting and help us continue our planning to take democracy back from the corporations and the greedy members of the 1%.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Last time we will see this

     So today is 12-12-12.  It will be the last time most of us will every see this sequencing in a date.  It is the 12th and last date sequencing we have had since the turn of the century.  Today's date sequencing has extra meaning to me as the number 12 has always been my lucky number.   When I was 12 years old my Grandfather gave me $2 that he would wager for me at a dog track in Key West,  Florida.  I had him place the wager on the number 12 dog and it won the race and I won $20.  I kept $18 and placed another wager on the number 12 dog in the second race and won again only this time I won $40.  I keep betting on the number 12 dog in each of the races and finished the night with over $100.  For a 12 year old kid I felt like I was rich and 12 has always been my lucky number.  You can bet I will be playing 1212 in the Pick 4 Maryland Lottery today.  I bet it will be a very popular number today.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Celebrating 50 years of Columbia tonight

  From the Columbia Archives:

"Columbia’s 50th birthday isn’t until June 2017, but the history of Columbia actually began in 1962 with the purchase of farmland, the first plots of what would soon become James Rouse’s planned community. In celebration of the 50th anniversary of that November 1962 purchase, Columbia Archiveswill be chronicling that story with a new series of exhibits and programs.
“Creating Columbia — The Idea and The Gamble” will be introduced at an open house on Tuesday, Dec. 11, from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Archives, located at 10227 Wincopin Circle in Downtown Columbia. Photographs, maps, news coverage and correspondence from the time period of 1962 to 1963 trace the progression of Rouse’s thought process, analysis of the Baltimore-Washington area, his first forays into town planning and the first land purchases.
The open house is free and open to the public. The exhibit will continue until June 2013 and is open during regular hours (Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.).  Registration is encouraged but not required.  Sign up at"


 Poverty in America.  The topic of income inequality and the shrinking middle class has been written about mostly in the liberal press.  The days of the "War on Poverty" and books like the one Michael Harrington wrote  on poverty seem to be from another age.  Recently I have read a couple of newspaper articles that highlight some of the issues relating to this topic.  The first is an article by Nicholas Kristoff in the New York Times on how the SSI program seems to be perpetuating poverty rather than helping people move out of poverty.  The second is an article in the Washington Post on the challenges of a teenager moving into the middle class in a town in Pennsylvania.  Both articles provide some depth to the issue of poverty in our Country today and I recommend taking a little time to read each article.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Giving the gift of reading this holiday season

     I have to confess that I only go to Barnes and Noble to find books that I want to put on the reserve list at the HoCo Library.  And yes I even buy a $3.50 latte to sit and read a book that looks interesting.  I can skim  100 pages or more to make sure I want to read the book in a half hour.  It is cheap entertainment on a rainy day.  With the number of books I read a year I estimate that I would spend $2,000 a year on books if I had to buy the books I read.  That is how much the Library saves me every year.  A couple of years ago I realized that for saving me that much I should at least become a Friend of the Library.  I even joined the Board of the Friends a year ago.  I figured it was time I did a little pay back to the Library.
    At this time of the year joining the Friends is like giving yourself a big gift and not feeling guilty about it.  It is easy to do online and I would suggest having your membership charged to your credit card automatically each month.  Here is that link.  

   This past week I received a call from a nurse I knew at Johns Hopkins Hospital about a Baltimore grandparent who was parenting five of her grandchildren.  I used to coordinate a program for grandparents raising grandchildren in Baltimore and the nurse had referred grandparents to me before. This grandparent was back in hospital and unsure how she was going to do Christmas this year for her grandchildren with her medical bills.  I told the nurse I would see what I could do but that I didn't have access to toys from Toys for Tots any longer.  I decided to order some of the items that had been on the grandmother's Christmas shopping list.  If anyone is interested helping to play Santa Claus for this family send me an email at the address at the top of the blog and I can share the Christmas list with you.

P.S. 1
From the HoCo Library:
 "Old Men in Blue and Grey, Maryland's Civil War Veterans." Miller Branch of the library on Monday night 12/10 at 7 p.m.

The Miller Branch Library and the Howard County Historical Society will co-sponsor a lecture by author Dan Toomey entitled "Old Men in Blue and Grey, Maryland's Civil War Veterans." The lecture will be held in the Ellicott Room at Miller Branch Library. Mr. Toomey will have books for sale at the lecture.

Daniel Carroll Toomey is considered a leading authority on the Civil War in Maryland. A graduate of the University of Maryland, he is the author or co-author of ten books relating to that subject including The Civil War in Maryland, Baltimore During the Civil War, and The Maryland Line Confederate Soldiers Home.

The event is free but registration is required. Click here to register online or call Miller Library at 410-313-1950.
Love history? "Old Men in Blue and Grey, Maryland's Civil War Veterans."  Miller Branch of the library on  Monday night 12/10 at 7 p.m. 

The Miller Branch Library and the Howard County Historical Society will co-sponsor a lecture by author Dan Toomey entitled "Old Men in Blue and Grey, Maryland's Civil War Veterans."  The lecture will be held in the Ellicott Room at Miller Branch Library.  Mr. Toomey will have books for sale at the lecture.

Daniel Carroll Toomey is considered a leading authority on the Civil War in Maryland. A graduate of the University of Maryland, he is the author or co-author of ten books relating to that subject including The Civil War in Maryland, Baltimore During the Civil War, and The Maryland Line Confederate Soldiers Home.

The event is free but registration is required. Click here to register online or call Miller Library at 410-313-1950.

The Shameful 38.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Living Nativity at the Franciscan Novitiate on Folly Quarter

   I received the following information from the Franciscans:

    " We invite you to join us for the Greccio Living Nativity on Sunday December 9th at 7:30pm. at the Red Barn on the Shrine of St. Anthony property. Dress warmly as the Living Nativity is outdoors. 

    Legend has it the Christmas Creche, or Nativity Scene as it is commonly called, began in Italy in 1223 when St. Francis of Assisi re-created the Bethlehem scene at Greccio. "There simplicity was honored, poverty exalted, humility was commended, and Greccio was made, as it were, as new Bethlehem." 

     The Franciscan Friars of the Shrine of St. Anthony invite you to join with them and the members of the St. Louis Catholic Youth Ministry as they commemorate the Birth of Jesus in the manner of St. Francis of Assisi in the little town of Greccio, Italy. Our service of prayers, Christmas carols, and a living Nativity will take place outside at the Red Barn. Following the Living Nativity there will be cookies and hot cocoa available at the Red Barn. 

   For further information please contact the Shrine office at 410-531-2800 or"

 There property is on Folly Quarter Road just past where Homewood turns into Folly Quarter

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Best Christmas lights in Columbia

  I am repeating information in a blog I did at this time last year.  Chuck Daniels is turning on his holiday lights tonight.  As you can see from the picture above this display is unmatched in our area.  The address is 5034 Durham Rd E in Beaverbrook not too far off Route 108.  After retiring from work programming computers for lottery systems Chuck decided to walk the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trails. But when October comes Chuck starts to prepare his Holiday almost 200,000 lights show.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Midnight Madness in Ellicott City tonight

Join the County Executive for the lighting of the County Christmas tree at the Tourism Center on Main Street Ellicott City at 6 pm.

Then visit Santa’s Workshop  from 5-8 PM at the Thomas Isaac Log Cabin during Midnight Madness in Historic Ellicott City on Main Street. 

Stores on Main Street open till midnight. Join Santa and his helpers on this very special evening that opens the holiday season in the historic district. Free for all ages. For more information contact

AAUW Howard County
AAUW Howard County, in conjunction with the Princeton Review, will sponsor an ACT practice test for high school students on Saturday, January 12, 2013, at the Vantage House Auditorium, 5400 Vantage Point Road, Columbia. The “Test Fest,” from 10:30 am to 3:30 pm, is modeled after the successful Practice SAT sessions previously offered.
A “Scores Back” Strategy Session will follow on Saturday,
February 2 from 2:30 to 4 pm, where participants will receive personal reports and learn more about the results.
Taking the practice ACT test under actual testing conditions is a great way for students to try their hands at the types of questions they will face on the ACT exams. They can build confidence and get comfortable with the testing formats.
Preregistration at for the sessions is required. The cost for the two sessions is $15, a donation to the AAUW Scholarship Fund. Checks should be sent to Amy Robinson, 5563 Nettlebed Ct., Columbia, MD 21045.

P. S. 1

P.S. 2
For every generation there seems to be a day that is a seminal moment that defines their generation.  For my parents generation it was the attack on Pearl Harbor that happened 71 years ago today.  The picture above is the USS Arizona 
Memorial.  The seminal moment for my generation was the Kennedy assassination and for my kids it will always be 911. 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Income Tax Assistance


       From watching television at this time of year you can already see the commercials for companies that work with families who owe more than $10,000 to the IRS. They must work on a contingency basis and they want to make it worth their time to work for you. I can bet that these companies take a good amount of the money obtained from their work on behalf of the person who is tax delinquent.
         In addition to the tax delinquency lawyers there are the predatory lenders and lawyers who will get your Social Security disability benefits. It seems that there are many people watching television who have gotten themselves into financial trouble and need help. That is why it is important to work with credible organizations in trying to resolve your financial difficulties. 

     Today I want to highlight one of those local organizations for help with tax preparation. makingCHANGE is hosting the Howard County Income Tax Assistance Program throughout the 2013 tax season. The service is free and open to tax payers who earn below $50,000. They can file electronically and can have the refund directly deposited into your bank account. Here is their information:


North Laurel-Savage Multiservice Center9900 Washington Boulevard (Rt 1)
Laurel, MD 20723

WHEN:January 19 to April 13, 2013

HOURS:Mondays and Wednesdays from 4 to 8 pm
Saturdays from 10am to 3 pm

Appointments are encouraged. Call(410) 541-6132 to make, change or cancel an appointment; or to learn more about VITA

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Solar Farm at Nixon's Farm

    Last week the newspapers had a story about the possibility of a "solar farm" at the Nixon Farm in West Friendship.  This is at least the third iteration for the Nixon family from a regular farm to a location for picnics and wedding receptions to finally a new age solar farm.  While solar has had its skeptics as a viable energy source in meeting this Country's energy needs it still has the potential to be the best alternative for a clean, renewable energy source.  While presently generating only 1% of our energy, the rapid development of solar farms is seen as the next boom in energy generation.  Natural gas while a better alternative to oil and coal it is not renewable and the environmental issues with "fracking" leaves this method with many questions.  Nuclear power, once a post World War Two clean energy solution, has difficult safety issues as seen by Two Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima and an unclear solution for the spent nuclear waste.
    The need for clean energy was once again seen last week with the report that the glaciers in Greenland are melting at three times the rate of just 15 years ago.  The United States is now number two in contributing CO2 to the environment with China now being the number one contributor.   The only positive thing about this change is that China can make radical economic changes with its government controlled economy.  Their ability to rapidly respond to a national need was seen with their success with the one child policy to control their population grow.

     I blogged a few months ago about how in the 1980's Howard County Government designed its new building to eventually have solar panels.  Maybe it is time to have another look at installing the panels on these buildings.

P.S. 1
   It may not be as big a change in energy production but the story of Energizer battery factories closing because of rechargeable batteries shows another change in how we generate power.

P.S. 2
From the Climate Change Initiative of Howard County:

Drilling Down
A Conference on Fracking Risks and Action in Maryland
Saturday, Dec 8, 10 - 4 p.m.
Registration starts at 9 a.m.
University of Baltimore

Maryland’s first-ever statewide conference on fracking. Hundreds of Marylanders -- activists, legislators, and fracking experts -- will come together for an inspiring, informative, and action-oriented day.
  • Get the facts on the dangers of fracking.
  • Meet inspiring activists on the front lines of the drilling threat in PA, NY and Western Maryland.
  • Rub elbows with Maryland legislators taking the lead on addressing fracking in our General Assembly.
  • Leave energized to join the fight in Maryland to win strong protections for our water, our health, and our climate.
  • After 4pm, consider after party to continue to make connections and debrief with fellow attendees.
Sign up Now! $15 in advance, $20 at door and includes lunch. Less for students. See list of fantastic speakers and registration (advance payment) here and here.
After you register you can add $7 for reduced rate parking. There will be carpools from Columbia.
Location: University of Baltimore, Langsdale Auditorium, corner of Maryland Ave. & West Oliver St. Use the entrance on West Oliver St., Baltimore, MD 21201.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Howard County's APL's spacecraft finds ice on Mercury

   The news yesterday was mostly from the JPL lead Curiosity mission to Mars and their finding nothing special about the dirt on Mars.  However, the news from our Howard County based APL report last week of finding ice on Mercury was unexpected.  Who would have thought that the planet closest to the Sun would have ice.  Apparently the poles of Mercury are shaded from sunlight enough to have ice form.

 APL has a growing space department and their own building, shown in the artist's rendering above, off John Hopkins Road across from their main campus.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Is Columbia a good place for mass transit?

     Recently I listened to a Freakonomics podcast about whether mass transit always has a beneficial impact on our environment.  Does mass transit always have a smaller "carbon footprint" than other modes of transportation?  To summarize the podcast, this is true only in areas with enough density to have high usage of mass transit.  New York City, with its highly used subway system, is an example of just such a place where mass transit is an extremely effective mode of transportation.  But what about places with less population density?  As it turns out the relationship of density to effective mass transit is not always an easy one to determine.  Some mass transit systems in lower density areas are more effective than ones in higher density areas.  One of the factors in the use of mass transit is a community's perception of mass transit.  This was brought home to me when my daughter lived in Atlanta.  Atlanta has some of the worst rush hour traffic congestion in the United States and yet it has a subway system that is underutilized. Being most familiar with the Washington Metro system and its universal usage by almost everyone in the area, I asked my daughter why more people didn't use the Atlanta subway system.  Her answer was that the public perception was that it was only used by poor people who didn't have a car.  The television stations reinforced this perception by frequently reporting on crimes that happened around the subway stations.
    A second factor in the use of mass transit is the proximity of mass transit stops to locations of high density.  Having to drive to a subway stop seems to be a negative factor in the use of mass transit.  If you see the high density housing being built next to the Rhode Island station of the Washington Metro or in Silver Spring you can see how attractive it is to live near a subway station.
    Thirdly, the comprehensiveness of a mass transit system plays a role in its usage.  Comparing the subway systems in New York and Washington to the Baltimore subway shows the importance of comprehensive subway systems.  With the Baltimore's limited system it has never been an effective commuter system for most people to use.  Unless you live in Owings Mills and work at Johns Hopkins Hospital it isn't much of an alternative choice for commuting.
    So finally the question is what could be an effective mass transit system for Columbia?  How effective are our options utilizing Howard Transit?  Are Columbia and other areas of the County served by Howard Transit dense enough for mass transit?  Are their enough car-less people in our area that they have to depend on mass transit?  Are large buses the most efficient vehicle for the ridership in our area?  I think we have all seen large buses with only one or two passengers.  Have you ever seen a Howard Transit bus full or even half full?  I have always had the question of why vans aren't the primary vehicle for our mass transit given the limited usage we have in this area.  How can we feel good about the "carbon foot" of our large buses carrying a couple of riders?  Is Federal and State funding for mass transit limited to large buses?  Given the limited usage of our present system would it not be more efficient to consider something different such as a greater use of para-transit for meeting our mass transit needs?
    These are just some observations from a non-transit person so maybe there are some facts of which I am not aware.  I would be glad to be filled in on that information.

    Check out this week's HoCo Library happenings.

P.S. 1

  Looks like the beavers at Lake Elkhorn are busy again.  I saw one swimming around a couple of weeks ago.