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Friday, February 28, 2014

Two words I am sick of hearing--"Polar Vortex"

     This morning I woke to an outside temperature of 10 degrees.  I don't know about you but I suddenly miss another dreaded named weather condition--- the three H's, hot, humid and hazy? Whatever happened to our normal winters when we rarely saw temperatures near single digits?  Since when did we move to Minnesota?  Speaking of Minnesota did you see that Duluth, Minnesota broke their record of days below zero in a winter with 60 days below zero this winter? I have only been in Duluth once during the Fourth of July holiday period and the temperature at the airport when we landed was 46 degrees! The people that met us joked that people in Duluth joke that they have two seasons---Winter and the Fourth of July!  With 46 degrees for the Fourth they may have to revise even that saying.
     I know that the climate change deniers will use our cold temperatures to bolster their claim that the warming of the earth is an unproven theory.  As strange as it may seem our unusually cold weather this year does just the opposite.  This is how that is explained in an article in Time Magazine recently:

 ".....not only does the cold spell not disprove climate change, it may well be that global warming could be making the occasional bout of extreme cold weather in the U.S. even more likely. Right now much of the U.S. is in the grip of a polar vortex, which is pretty much what it sounds like: a whirlwind of extremely cold, extremely dense air that forms near the poles. Usually the fast winds in the vortex—which can top 100 mph (161 k/h)—keep that cold air locked up in the Arctic. But when the winds weaken, the vortex can begin to wobble like a drunk on his fourth martini, and the Arctic air can escape and spill southward, bringing Arctic weather with it. "

     Take heart meteorological Spring starts this Saturday.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Three years and 1000 blogs later

     Tomorrow marks the beginning of my fourth year of blogging.  Looking to get more involved in the local community, after being mostly involved outside of Howard County for 10 years, I was unsure how I could accomplish this.  Reading about a session sponsored by HoCo Blogs explaining how to blog I thought I would give it a try and see what happens.  I was not aware of the active blogging community in HoCo (or even that Howard County had this convenient shortened name!).  HoCo Blogs is the anchor that gets blogs known in our community.  Without HoCo Blogs and Jesse Newburn the audience for blogs in our County would be very limited and HoCo would be poorer for it.
     Why blog?  As more people became aware of my blog I was frequently asked why I started a blog.  While there is no one single answer to this question I would mostly answer that it was using the new internet technology to interact on a regular basis with people in our community.  We all interact in a variety of ways with the people around us.  Clubs, work meetings,  phone calls are just some of the ways we communicate directly on an everyday basis.  Blogging reminds me most like writing letters to the editor of local newspapers.  Blogging simply takes out the role of the editor determining which letters to publish.  Who needs editors and newspapers when the internet is open to anyone who is venturesome enough to try it.  Blogging is just another way of keeping a daily journal and sharing it with the community.  It is still strange to bump into people you know or just met for the first time and they know something about you or something you did that was communicated through your blog.
     Most people to whom I have talked say things like, " I wouldn't know what to blog about" or "How do you think of things to blog about?"  My response has always been to try it and see if you start to develop the mindset of a blogger.  Bloggers (and writers) tend to see everyday events as potential blogs. While we share these observations with our blog readers our gain is really to make us think a little more deeply about our everyday lives.  Small events can lead to making more significant connections in our community and our lives.
     When I started to blog I was fortunate to have the chance to talk with Tom Coale and Dennis Lane about the mechanics of blogging and they helped me decide what type of blogger I wanted to be.  Tom stressed that I had to decide on the subject matter of my blog.  Most blogs have a consistent theme like politics, food or just personal observations.  I quickly found out that I am too eclectic to have one consistent theme.  I decided on the name HoCo Connect because I wanted to be a place for people to connect in the community.  I am one of the few bloggers that encourages people to send me information on community events that I will post.  Dennis stressed that it was important to be a frequent blog poster.  If I blogged infrequently or inconsistently people would tend to lose interest in reading my blog.  He mentioned that Facebook was so popular because people knew that there was new information posted to Facebook all the time.  He explained that he posted almost everyday and that he didn't need to have something profound to post a blog.  Simple daily observations kept him in the "blogging mindset." It is still hard to look at Dennis' last blog post and think about how there will never be another one.  I took this advise to heart and I am one of the few (if only) daily bloggers out there in our County.  If I get an idea for a blog post I save it in my blog draft file and then go back and look to see if I want to expand the information into a blog post.  Presently I have 45 saved blog topics.  That is the only way I could blog frequently.
      I have taken some criticism for only re-posting information that I have received or read some days.  My response can be summed up with the phrase "different strokes for different folks."  Some bloggers can spend considerable time and thought into each blog they post and some of us can knock off a daily blog in 30 minutes or less each day.
     If you have been a reader of this blog you have noticed how often I use the P.S. format to add information at the end of many blogs.  Many of these P.S. posts were potential blogs that just never developed into more extensive blogs.  I couldn't develop enough of a post out of the information but thought that it was worth sharing in some way.  I know that I am not using the P.S. format correctly in that I have just simplified the format to P.S., P.S.1, P.S.2, etc.  I always thought that the usual format we learned in writing term papers was too complicated.
     Finally I learned that the secret to gaining blog readers was to get linked with other bloggers.  Getting links on Tom's and Dennis' blog helped getting views for my blog.  Getting mentioned by HowChow is also a driver to anyone's blog.  But getting posted on the Baltimore Sun's "blogs of the day" gets the biggest increase in blog views.  This is especially when your blog is the 'featured blog of the day."  My blog post on whatever happened to Linda Tripp was the featured blog of the day and has almost a thousand views.

There are still free tickets to attend tonight's Blog Party at the new White Oak Tavern in the Enchanted Forest Shopping Center.  Blog parties are fun for both bloggers and blog readers.

From HoCo Library:

     New York Times bestselling author Alice Hoffman presents The Museum of Extraordinary Things. Set in the volatile early twentieth century in New York, her mesmerizing new novel tells the story of young love between two vastly different souls. Hoffman's acclaimed body of work has been published in more than twenty translations and more than one hundred foreign editions, and includes Practical Magic, made into a movie starring Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman; and Here on Earth, an Oprah Book Club selection.
      Hoffman is currently a visiting research scholar at the Women's Studies Research Center at Brandeis University. She lives in Boston.
     Books available for purchase and signing. Sponsored by Friends of Howard County Library. Registration begins February 1. "A Meet the Author" event.
      *Registration is required. Register online or by calling 410.313.1950.

   Whew! Today's blog post took way too much time.  Almost an hour!  Back to shorter posts.


Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Need a little Spring this weekend?

    With the snow showers the past couple of days it seems as if Winter is never going to let go of our weather. This weekend and next at the Maryland Fairgrounds the Maryland Home and Gardens show is a great way to move the calendar ahead a couple of months.  

I received the following information from the Home and Garden Show:

"Maryland Home & Garden Show Brings Color to Your World March 1-2 and 7-9, 2014
While Marylanders may have the winter blues from the weather outside, inside the Cow Palace at the Maryland State Fairgrounds it’s a world of color! Spring will be in full bloom at the upcoming Maryland Home & Garden Show, March 1-2 and 7-9.
Bring some color home with you.
        After a long winter, the Maryland Home & Garden Show makes it easy to bring a little color back into your life by shopping for beautiful plants, cut flowers and one-of-a-kind crafts for the home. During the second weekend of the Show, the Maryland Orchid Society and Baltimore Bonsai Club will display thousands of vivid flowers and miniature gardens for visitors to peruse and purchase. Both weekends, The Maryland Spring Craft Show will feature more than 125 craftspeople selling their unique, handmade creations that can add color to the home or garden.
       The Maryland Home & Garden Show at the Maryland State Fairgrounds, 2200 York Road in Timonium, will be open two weekends: Saturday, March 1, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.and Sunday, March 210 a.m. to 6 p.m.; and the following weekend:  Friday, March 710 a.m. to 6 p.m.Saturday, March 810 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sunday, March 9, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
        Tickets are $12 for adults, $10 for seniors, $3 for kids ages 6-12, and free for children under 6 years old and active military, police and fire employees with ID. Admission to the Maryland Spring Craft Show only is $6.
Ticket discounts are available online at and from participating M&T Bank locations.  Online purchases come with a free full-year subscription to one of four lifestyle magazines.
Free parking is available onsite and a free shuttle is available between buildings courtesy of Chesapeake Home and Living.

For more information on the Maryland Home & Garden Show, visit or call (410) 863-1180."


    Video of the week. Seems that humans are not the only ones to enjoy a little winter fun.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Winter is harder on some than others

     This winter has been hard on everyone's energy bills.  Bills for fuel have far surpassed energy bills for the past few winters.  The average temperature at Baltimore-Washington International Airport in January 2014 was 27 degrees – compared to 35 in January 2013. In Hagerstown, the difference was even more dramatic, with an average temperature of 25 degrees in January 2014 versus 34 in January 2013.
      While it may take more dollars out of everyone's budget, for low income families it can mean having to choose between food, medicine or fuel.  The good news announced yesterday by Gov. O'Malley is that the State has made an additional $20 million available to low income Maryland families.  Families already approved for funds this year will automatically see the additional funds added to their accounts.  For those low income families that don't have accounts applications are now being taken.  You can apply at this link.
Individuals are asked to consider giving to the Fuel Fund directly at this link.

    Somehow I have avoided going into the Potbelly Sandwich Shop on Dobbin Road.  It replaced the Starbucks when they moved across the street.  Probably it has to do with trying to reduce the carbs I eat each day.  Anyway.  Potbelly like a lot of restaurants have "hidden menus" that are only known to super customers.  Here is the hidden one for Potbelly.  I think I gained a few pounds just looking at it.


Monday, February 24, 2014

Portland's lessons for Howard County

   I have blogged extensively about Columbia being more walkable and bikeable.   Streets in our community were designed for cars as they were in most suburbs.  We have an extensive bike path system that does give us pathways to use to get from one village to another.  However, too often the street patterns and markings aren't coordinated with the path systems.  Many paths lead to roads with curbs and no clear bike lanes.  If there aren't houses on a street often there are no sidewalks.  The photos below show how roads like Dobbin were never designed to be use in a walkable manner.

  Walking or biking to a shopping center in Columbia was never seen as way to access they areas.

   I recently listened to a TED Conference talk by Jeff Speck who is a city planner and he uses Portland, Oregon as an example of better planning.  He discussed how destructive suburban sprawl is on our environment and our economy.  In the past 30 years we have doubled the amount families spend on transportation.  The average family now spends more on transportation than housing.   This is not news if you have tried to buy a new car recently.  New cars now can cost what a house in Columbia cost in the 1970's.

     The average Portlander spends 20% less on transportation than the average American.  That leaves more of their income for other things like restaurants and entertainment.  In the last 20 years they have increased their college educated population by 50%.  That translates into more local  income and property tax revenue.  Walkable neighborhoods are also related to a lower rate of obesity in other less walkable neighborhoods.
      The 2014 Howard County Capital Budget is supposed to have some money for pathway development and soon the proposed Bike Master Plan is supposed to be released (March?) and may address the need for better marking of bike lanes on some of our roads.  I will follow each of these and report any progress in this area.


    Portland has an image as the place that all the 1960's "hippies" have gone to live.  It is probably the most eco-friendly place in the United States.  This image is humorously depicted in the TV show Portlandia on the IFC cable network starring Fred Armisen from Saturday Night Live.  The show starts its fourth season this Thursday. All three seasons shows are available on Netflix.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Say it "ain't" true

    Gosh, I didn't know the stakes were this high in yesterday's Olympic Hockey match with Canada!

Friday, February 21, 2014

Have you ever had a "Sigmund Freud Sandwich"

     Recently I was driving by the Three Brothers Italian Restaurant on Snowden River Parkway and it brought back memories of the original tenant in this space--Roy's Place Two.  This restaurant was the second one opened by Roy Passin after his successful restaurant in Gaithersburg.   The menu at this place had over 200 different sandwiches with some of the most unusual ingredients and names.  Names like "the Raunchy Raymond," "Lassie's Revenge" and "The Song of Love."   Ingredients combined meats, cheeses, toppings and sauces in some of the most original ways.  It often took 15 to 20 minutes to finally make a decision.  Unfortunately the restaurant only lasted for a few years and we lost one of the most original restaurant in Columbia.  I was wondering if the restaurant was still open in Gaithersburg and was disappointed to see that it also closed last year.  Trust me Potbelly's and Jimmy John's are nothing compared to Roy's Place.

    My favorite sandwich at Roy's Place Two was the Sigmund Freud.  I combined fried oysters, swiss cheese, ham and coleslaw on a bun.  With no other option I decided to try to make one of these sandwiches myself.  The picture above isn't that good but it tasted great!


Thursday, February 20, 2014

Tivoli Gardens redux in Symphony Woods ?


      Recently the Washington Post had an interesting story about a proposed "Merriground" area for Symphony Woods that is pictured above.  This children's play area is just one of the ideas being considered to bring people to Symphony Woods.

     Above is a depiction of "an acoustical arrival" feature for the multiple entrances to a redesigned Woods.  This feature could have sounds from these features at certain times of the day.
         Right now most people seldom visit Symphony Woods except for Wine in the Woods and the Symphony of Lights.  This plan attempts to make Symphony Woods more like a small version of New York's Central Park or Rouse's vision of a "Tivoli Gardens" like park.  Rouse envisioned the area to have cultural-entertainment-recreational features that would include restaurants, bandstands, theaters, an amusement park, ice rink and a boat marina.  The area around Lake Kittamaqundi and Merryweather Post have some of these features but the original ideas have not been brought to fruition.  If this idea sounds familiar it was discussed in 2005 in a charette that was designed to bring more community activity to Symphony Woods and the downtown.  Earlier General Growth Properties had even proposed developing housing in this area.
     The dynamic of commercial and residential development versus community ascetics and enhancements has always existed in Columbia's development as it does in most communities.  With Rouse as a developer the community enhancements and "people features" were a central core in what was envisioned for Columbia.  Sure it had to meet sensible business goals and be profitable but it was never seen as secondary to the business goals.

     The dynamic mentioned above is also seen in the contrast with Microsoft and Apple.  Steve Jobs was the Jim Rouse of product development.  The ascetic quality of the products Apple produced was central to how the products were designed.  These design elements were what made Apple products so unique and profitable. Microsoft was considered boring and Apple products were chic.  Which is the more profitable approach? Check this story out.


Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Maryland Food Bank needs volunteers


        During a Give Back to the Community effort last year I had an opportunity to volunteer at the Maryland Food Bank in Baltimore just a short drive up Route 1 .  I also had the opportunity to distribute food from the Bank to grandparents raising grandchildren in Baltimore. This food bank distributes nearly 29 million meals annually in Maryland.  Some of those meals are distributed through the Howard County Food Bank.  Just like blood donations, the volunteers for the Bank are less during the Winter holiday season and the snowy Winter months.  The last two months have been especially hard on the Food Bank and I received some information to pass along to everyone about the Bank's need for groups to volunteer to sort and pack boxes for distribution.

      If you know of any group looking for a project this would be a good one to undertake.  Here is the info on their need:

 "With more than half-a-million pounds of food waiting to be sorted and packed at its Baltimore County headquarters, the Maryland Food Bank is issuing an urgent call for help. The food bank relies entirely on volunteers to process what’s known as salvage – mixed assortment donations received from food drives and retailers. Volunteers put in more than 15,000 hours from July – December, helping the Maryland Food Bank meet the growing need brought on by the government shutdown, sequestration furloughs and cuts to SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps).

Unfortunately, generous donations from retailers combined with a decline in volunteerism after the holidays has created a serious backlog. Now, the equivalent of 17 tractor trailers worth of food is sitting in the Maryland Food Bank’s warehouse instead of reaching children and families in need. The demand is so great that any food that volunteers do pack is ordered by soup kitchens, pantries and other Maryland Food Bank partners within 2 hours – quickly depleting supplies and leaving the need unmet.

To remedy the situation, the Maryland Food Bank is looking for groups of 15 – 25 people who can work 9:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. and/or 1:00 – 4:00 p.m. Monday – Friday. These shifts are offered every weekday, but currently only 60 percent of them are filled.

For groups who are not available during the workday, the food bank will begin offering sessions on Tuesday and Thursday evenings from 5:30 – 8:00 p.m.

At least 15 people are needed per shift to be effective, and because all sorting is done on a high-speed conveyor belt, volunteers must be age 18 or older.

If both weekday and evening shifts were filled, the food bank estimates it could get two additional tractor trailers worth of food out each week, and eliminate the backlog within a month."

   To volunteer go to this link.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Time for some snow fines?

    If you have followed this blog you know how one of my pet peeves is the sidewalks that don't get cleared with heavy snowfalls.  The picture above shows how sidewalks on the back side of homes never get shoveled.  The residents of these homes don't use the sidewalks behind their homes so they ignore the Howard County law that requires homeowners to clear sidewalks in front or behind their homes. The Howard County Code states:
  "Howard County does not maintain any sidewalks, including snow removal, with exception of 
the sidewalks adjacent to County buildings (libraries, offices, etc.). The owner of property 
abutting a sidewalk in a public right-of-way is responsible for removing snow from the 
sidewalk within 48 hours after the snow has fallen. In the event of a multi-unit building with 
more than one occupant, it shall be the duty of the lessor to remove the snow unless the 
lessor has obligated a tenant who is actually occupying the property to do so. (Howard 
County Code, Section 18.402(h). This applies to public streets and is applicable to sidewalks 
adjacent to public property. 
     If a property owner has not removed the snow within 48 hours, you may want to contact 
the property owner and advise him or her of the County code. If you are unsure who owns a 
property, contact our Real Estate Services Division at 410-313-2330. If you have an exact 
address, they can look up the property owner and may be able to give you a contact name 
and number. 
     As a last resort, to file a complaint, contact the Howard County Police Department at 410-
313-2200. "
  With schools opening today the sidewalks that are not cleared will cause students to walk in the street to get to school.   The picture below was taken yesterday in front of Oakland Mills High School near the townhouse complex next to the school. 

    I am sure that the complex has a homeowners association but they apparently don't feel the need to pay to have the sidewalks cleared in front of their complex.  Businesses are also not exempt from neglecting their responsibilities as the sidewalks in front of the YMCA Daycare Center on Homespun Lane show below.

      The Columbia Association plows up to the property line for the Day Care Center and that is where the clearing for the sidewalk ends.  
      Maybe it is time to put some teeth into the requirement to clear sidewalks.  Is it time for the County to send out notices to residents and businesses reminding them of their responsibility and setting up a system of fines for not clearing sidewalks?  The present system of the Code being violated often seems to be useless without some enforcement procedures that go beyond what is currently in place.  Do we have to wait for a student to get hit walking on the road before this issue is addressed?

    HoCo Library and our street names are recognized in this Maryland promotion video.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Howard County land grap

     This week I attended the second session that the Columbia Archives held to discuss the events that led to the development of Columbia 50 years ago.  This was the second in a three part series to talk about the acquisition of land and early development of Columbia.   As the map above shows the land purchases that were made 50 years ago were in a patchwork fashion.  This was a deliberate strategy to disguise what Rouse was doing.  If all the purchases had been linked together some smart property owners would have seen where the purchases were headed and the price to purchase land would have escalated.  The original offers for land were in the $400-$600 an acre range but some of the holdout owners were able to get as much as $1200 an acre or more.  Of course all of this would not have been possible if Jim Rouse had not been able to convince Frazar B. Wilde the Chairman of the Board of Connecticut General Insurance Company to fund the land purchases.  Connecticut General had funded some of other Rouse Company projects and they saw little risk in funding the land purchases for the planned community.  They recognized that even if Rouse's plans for Columbia were not successful the value of this land between Baltimore and Washington DC would only go up.  Somebody would what the land for development.  At this time the Washington DC metropolitan area had the 3rd highest population growth rates of all metropolitan areas in the United States and Baltimores metropolitan growth rate was number seven.

    Rouse was assisted in the purchase of the land for Columbia from Robert Moxley a young real estate salesman who had listed some land in the area of the present Hobbits Glen.  From this original purchase of 1,000 acres Mr. Moxley put together the purchase of a number of additional farms for Columbia.  Many of the farmers who sold land for Columbia were able to buy larger farms in western Howard County or Carroll County.  
     Mr. Moxley's involvement in the land purchases certainly helped overcome some of the concerns about the land purchases. His father was one of the Howard County Commissioners.  In 1962 three Republican commissioners had been elected on a slow growth platform.  Rouse had his work cut out for himself in convincing these conservative commissioners that development was inevitable and that his plan for development was the best one for how this development played out.
     Some of the larger land owners in the Columbia area were the most important to convince to sell.  Isadore Gudelsky was the owner of Contee Sand and Gravel Company that owned land in the area of Route 29 where Town Center is located..  He was a person who bought land but rarely sold land but his landholdings were key as they existed in the center of the planned community.  Mr. Moxley offered Mr Gudelsky $1.75 million for his land and Mr. Gudelsky knowing about the other land purchases counter offered with $4 million.  The final agreement for the land purchase was made on a paper napkin at the old Friendship Airport as Mr. Gudelsky was ready to board a plane.
     Another large land owner was Kingdon Gould of the famous Gould family.  This is the family of Jay Gould who was a railroad developer and speculator from the 1800's.   Kingdon had been an ambassador and real estate developer in the 1960's with extensive land holdings in Howard County.  He owned the Kings Contrivance Restaurant and much of the land of the future Kings Contrivance Village.  Many meetings of the early development of Columbia were held at the Kings Contrivance Restaurant. 
     The final large landowner was Oliver Goldsmith who owned a horse farm and golf course in the area of Allview Golf Course.  Like the land that Mr. Gudelsky owned the land owned by Mr. Goldsmith was strategically located in the center of the planned community and cost more that other parcels of land.
    By October 1963 Mr. Rouse had accumulated over 14,000 acres of land and was ready to publically announce his plans to develop the planned community of Columbia.
   The last session in this series is today at 2 pm at Slayton House and will discuss the various people that Rouse brought together to plan for how the different aspects of the new community would develop.


Saturday, February 15, 2014

House of Cards returns

    Yesterday the snow shoveling was made more manageable with the start of the second season of House of Cards on Netflix.  Being able to watch a whole season of episodes at once has changed how we view this series.  It also helps as there are so many characters and story lines that watching from week to week would be challenging.  If you like political stories this one is too good to be missed.  It is a little far fetched in how the main character works his way up the political ladder but it is good theater.  It's also fun to try and figure out where they are filming in Baltimore.

     Expecting the snow plows yesterday to plow in my driveway yesterday I was pleasantly surprised to watch the drivers plow the street in a way that pushed the snow away from driveways.  Given how heavy the snow was this was great.  It took more time to plow this way but was much appreciated by homeowners.  Howard County snow plow drivers came through with flying colors again yesterday.  My hats off to these County workers for the job they do.  They probably want to see Spring more than any of us.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Want to give the unusual Valentine's Day gift?

   When do flowers or candy just not send the right sign of affection?  All week on NPR this product has been advertised.  I know that companies advertise on the markets with the demographics that match their product the best.  I am not sure what there is about the demographics of an NPR listener that matches this product but see what you think.
   There are two days you don't try to eat in a restaurant---Mother's Day and Valentine's Day.  So both days I try to make a special dinner at home with some good wine.

 This is the dish I will be attempting tonight with some couscous. 

   This is my choice in a wine.

  Trash and recycling for Howard County is sliding one day because of the snow. With the side roads unplowed today it maybe a challenge to get any trash picked up in the next couple of days.

P.S. 1

Maybe this is the best Valentine's gift for 2014

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Why does productivity have to be lost when it snows?

      Our snowfall today once again shows how weather can impact normal activity and business.  While it is nice to slow down and take a break from normal routines it does mean that productive work has to be delayed.  Just speaking personally I had two meetings cancelled and will have to be rescheduled.  While this is only a small loss in the larger scope of things but with today's technology I wonder if these meetings could have been held using the technology of GoToMeeting.  Video conferencing and online presentations are now realistic alternatives to bringing people together in one location for a meeting.  Most people today have barely touched the surface in using the new technologies in their work efforts.  Some of these technologies will probably only become the norm when enough younger tech savvy persons move into leadership positions within organizations.  Persons of my generation are just too used to the work environments and technology of the pre-digital era.
       The snowfall didn't mean a lost work day for those workers who have the capability to telework.  With high speed internet connections most of the work the people do at their work desk can now be done at home or any other internet connected location.  The only real limits today in having this become the norm for many workers is the nonacceptance of this new reality by some employers.  Not having the ability to see that employees are at their workstation is still a hurdle in getting employers to embrace this opportunity.  The need for less office space, wasted travel time and less work interruptions are just beginning to be recognized by employers.
     It maybe hard to remember that our present work place set up was only developed in the 20th Century when transportation allowed employees to live great distances from where they worked.  Living above your workplace or doing your work in your home was the norm in the early 20th Century.

 I was reminded of this when I walked around Savage recently and saw all the worker houses that were built around the Savage Mill.

    You see the same thing in Ellicott City with the worker houses on Old Columbia Pike with the houses for the Ellicott Flour Mill.
     So as we move into the 21st Century we maybe moving to a model where where we live and where we work will be unconnected.  Workers will not have to move for employment.  Trust me it will be here within a generation.

    For all those who have not used video chat you have an easy, no cost way to experience this technology.  Google Hangouts are free and allow you to video chat with  Google HangoutsYou do have to have a Gmail account and join Google+.  If you haven't opened a Google account and got a Gmail account you are missing the revolution that Google is rapidly developing for online capabilities.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

How will Columbia "turn the page" on the Mall shooting?

    I have always admired individuals who come to terms with a tragedy by trying to create a positive response to the tragedy.  Examples abound of just this type of response.  Think of the Susan G. Komen Foundation to fight breast cancer, Lance Armstrong Livestrong Foundation,  Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and the Amber Alert Program.  The old axiom of "turning lemons into lemonade" is one that I have always tried to live by.  Tragedy can be a powerful motivator for positive action.
    This thought has been running through my mind in the past week as I try to process the tragedy that occurred at the Columbia Mall.  Columbia has always seemed to be a community that would not want to be defined as "that town that had another Mall shooting."  Somehow we are the kind of thoughtful community that would use this tragedy as a way to focus our energies on how we could be improved our community in some substantial manner.  Some of my thoughts in this direction lead me to think of examining how some of our youth can be so disenfranchised from society that they see shooting others as a way of expressing their pain.  When family and friends see troubling behaviors in a young family member why is it difficult to access a mental health resource to address the behaviors.  Mental health care has always been the stepchild in our healthcare system.  Somehow insurance coverage for mental health care has always had artificial limits of coverage to control the cost of insurance policies.  Do we think it is acceptable to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on the last few months of life through artificial means but often limit mental health visits to 10 visits with a 50% co-pay?   We have many resort type mental health treatment facilities around the country for those with the means to pay tens of thousands of dollars for care but funds for community mental health centers are often the first places to cut funding in tight budget times.
      Maybe it is a time for some discussions on how this imbalance in care can be addressed in our community.  We have many resources in our community to address this problem of identifying and reaching out to troubled individuals.  A concerted effort to address this issue might be the best way for us to use the Mall tragedy to have a positive outcome for our community. Seems to me to be a logical way that Columbia would be more than just another town with Mall shooting.


Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Notes from the land of grits, sweet tea and fireworks

     I guess we all recognize how we live in the Columbia "bubble" when it comes to our views of culture and how the world works.  I admit it I am a Starbucks drinking, bagel eating, NPR radio listening liberal. A visit to the Southern part of our Country shows how distant we are from the cultural land of the Tea Party.  Having spent the past week and a half in the South I wanted to share some of my observations.
     I am not sure why Southerners have an obsession with grits.  For all of us Northerners this gritty cream of wheat substance is something which we try to eat with milk and sugar.  This horrifies Southerners who put butter, salt and pepper on this dish.  As many Southerners will point out grits is more of a dinner meal than a breakfast meal.  I saw the familiar grits and shrimp dishes along with the grits and cheese, grits and jalapeno peppers and grits with bacon and red peppers.
    After grits you have to realize that ice tea doesn't come unsweetened in the South.  We made this mistake twice when ordering ice tea for dinner.  Sweet tea is the only kind known down South.  Once we were told they would have to brew some new tea because sweet tea was all they had.  Mistakenly tasting the sweet tea my only question was how much sugar do they put in their tea?  Seemed to me to be one part tea to two parts sugar.  The South needs an Horizon Foundation to spell out the sugar problem more than we do here in Howard County.  Between the fried foods and sugar in tea it is no wonder that the states with the highest rates of obesity are mostly in the South.

    What is the South's obsession with fireworks?  They don't have just regular size fireworks stores but they have supersized fireworks stores!  Think of IKEA sized fireworks stores.  They must be doing fireworks year round for these stores to exist in the numbers that they do.  Explosives of all kinds seems to be a popular sport down South.  Closely related to this is the obsession with guns and ammo stores.  Interestly many of these stores seem to also commonly display Confederate flags.  Is the South really preparing for a resumption of the Civil War?  If this is the case I think this time the North will be out gunned.
     As I mentioned earlier I usually listen to NPR on the radio.  In the Northeast it is not hard to find an NPR station on the lower end of the FM radio dial.  It is always comforting to be able to listen to NPR's Morning Edition or the Diane Rehm's show when traveling.  This was harder in the South.  The lower end of the FM dial was mostly religious or country western stations.

    Probably the most telling difference in traveling Route 95 through the South is the schizophrenic juxtaposition of the billboards with a religious message next to the billboards for gentlemen's clubs.  Gentlemen's clubs and Baptist churches seem to be the most common institutions in Southern towns. Can you imagine what would happen if someone tried to open a gentlemen's club in Columbia?  The closest we came to this is with the adult store along Route 40 in Ellicott City.  My take away from the Southern billboards is that there must be a large number of frustrated, guilt ridden men in the area.
     Finally the number of anti-Obama bumper stickers in the South reinforces the reason why we have a gridlocked Congress.  Virginia and North Carolina maybe turning purple but in the Deep South the dislike and hatred for Obama is very strong.  Bumper stickers that say "I didn't vote for Obama but I want my free stuff" or Obama as a Nazi or the Joker from Batman are everywhere.  No "Choose Civility" bumper stickers in the South which makes the politeness in their speech ring a little hollow to me.
     In writing this blog I know I sound mocking and self righteous about the South.  Maybe what I observed was only the superficial aspects of Southern culture as someone only passing by to another destination.  Maybe my feeling of being a "fish out of water" was only because I didn't have enough time to develop a deeper understanding to appreciate the positive aspects of the culture and maybe it is unfair to evaluate their culture through my Northern liberal filter.

     We went from this........................................

    to this in two days!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Makes you wonder about our choices of residence.