Thursday, May 31, 2007

Clean Air?

Starting tomorrow the county's ban on smoking in bars and restaurants takes effect, according to this Sun story. You can't even smoke within 15 feet of the entrance (unless you happen to be in Ellicott City, where the sidewalks are apparently too narrow).

Which is a good thing since the air outside is not looking so swell. Today marks the first time this year the region is under Code Orange, which means ozone levels are predicted to be extremely high and air quality very low, not so good for people with sensitive respiratory systems.

And while we are on the weather, wouldn't you know it? As soon as the county imposes restrictions on the use of water because of water main problems, the rain goes away. Here's an item from the Sun's weather blog:

May 30, 2007

Fourth-driest May?

There's a chance we could see a pop-up thunderstorm today or tomorrow. But it's not very likely. If there's nothing before May runs out at midnight tomorrow, this month will rank as the 4th driest May on record for Baltimore.

You can sure see it in our suburban lawns. They're as brown as August. And stream flows, especially in the western half of the state, are running well below normal for this time of year.

Normal May rainfall at BWI is 3.89 inches. Here are the driest four Mays for Baltimore:

1986: 0.37 inch

1964: 0.43 inch

1957: 0.55 inch

2007: 0.94 inch

The forecast shows a rising likelihood for thunderstorms from Friday through the weekend. But that will come too late to bail out this very dry month of May.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Columbia Abroad

From the school system:

"Congratulations to Kevin Mulroe, Gifted and Talented Resource Teacher at Clemens Crossing Elementary School and recent recipient of a Fulbright Scholarship from the US Department of Education. He was one of fifteen educators chosen from across the United States to be part of this program. This summer, Kevin will be traveling to India to learn about India's best practices in math and science and, while there, will be completing a curriculum project focusing on India's education system and Indian culture."

Mulroe was Howard's teacher of the year in 2004-2005. He's helped send kids to U.S. space camp, and has written three children's books. Here's a bit from his 2005 teacher of the year profile:

Kevin has been a teacher for seven years -- two of which were spent as a 5th grade teacher in Alexandria, Egypt at the Schutz American School. An expert in educational motivations, he has presented his work on motivation in education at several international teachers' conferences. In 1999, he was selected to participate in the New York Stock Exchange Teachers Workshop to develop curriculum. Kevin is currently co-authoring a children's book about the C & O Canal.

How has the way you teach changed over the years? What lessons have you learned?

Since beginning in 1997, I have become a very balanced teacher in terms of creativity, instruction, communication, and leadership. I have done a better job at helping my students create meaning from what we work on together. To me, that is critical, because I always want my students to see the relevance of what they are learning and be able to apply that to their life and the lives of others.

One thing I have learned over time is that taking time to build relationships is essential as a teacher. They must be built with students, parents, and fellow staff if you are to be truly effective at what you do.

What advice would you give to a teacher who's starting their first year and feels overwhelmed?

Remember why you became a teacher and never lose sight of the fact that what you do every day is not only essential to success of your students, but to the prosperity and interests of the United States as well.

What do you think the biggest challenge that teachers face today is, and why? How do you meet it?

Increasing responsibilities in the classroom without adequate time to be innovative. The more work that is added to the daily schedule, the less time there is for planning and creating. This leads to less effective instruction and subsequently lower results. More planning time is needed to allow teachers to freedom to create meaningful lessons and "real-life" projects for their students. Set your priorities as a teacher. Think about what you are doing to improve the life of each child.

What do you think the key has been to your success as a teacher?

To me, the key to becoming an effective teacher is to build a relationship with your students. If you think about anything you have been successful at in life, most likely it came from building relationships. This is absolutely essential to be an effective teacher. You must connect with your students across more that just curriculum.You must see them as individuals. Take time to learn their interests as well as fears. Make sure they see you in this light, too. Laugh with them, tell them stories, and share life's experiences.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Columbia Soccer

Soccer Association of Columbia-Howard County wraps up its big Memorial Day tournament, drawing 370 teams and some 6,000 kids. A quick scan of results on the event Web site seems to show that nine SAC teams finished No. 1 or tied for the top at the end of bracket play; there were 44 brackets over all for boys and girls.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Dog Gone Swimming!

Sophie the water dog

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Literary Columbia

this was addressed to bloggers but perhaps others would be interested as well:

Dear Columbia Bloggers:
I'm writing to call your attention to the upcoming release of Little Patuxent Review June 2. The theme of this issue is "Columbia at 40" and it features a distinguished -- and home-grown -- array of talent. There will be readings by some of these authors and a reception at Oliver's Carriage House (5410 Leaf Treader Way, Columbia, MD) at 3 PM on June 3. An encore reading at the Glenwood Community Center in Cooksville June 19 will take place as part of this year's Columbia Festival of the Arts. Both events are free admission, but tickets must be reserved in advance for the June 19 event.
Little Patuxent Review was initially established in the late 1970's by a pair of Columbia poets but went out of publication in the mid-1980's. The first issue of the revived Little Patuxent Review came out this winter. For more information, please visit the Little Patuxent Review website.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Gone Swimming!

Everyone in the pool.
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Changes At Howard

There's discontent among some of the staff at Howard High, apparently directed at Principal Regina Massella, who arrived in 2004, according to the Sun. There's no quibble that she has shaken up the staff. Test scores are way up and the story includes several comments of support from the PTA president and others. But the union says 64 percent of those at the school who responded to its survey said morale is bad. Massella said the unhappiness stems from her attempt to hold people accountable. Superintendent Sidney Cousin says some unnamed allegations have been turned over to the Office of School Administration.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Going Green: What Is The Meaning of Life?

Earlier this week, WaPo published a survey showing that gas prices would have to rise to $4.38 before people cut back on their driving.

Hayduke wrote that he supports raising prices $1 in the form of a carbon tax, saying we have long failed to pay the true cost of fuel.

Jesse chimed in declaring that gas prices have been low for too long.

A question: If gas prices soar, whither Columbia, the suburb of Baltimore and Washington?

What would sustain it?

Office and condo towers?

More mass transit?

Wind farms? Nuclear energy? Organic farming?

What is the vision?

Who makes it happen?

Friday, May 25, 2007

The Rouse Tower

The Columbia Flier has a story about a memo unearthed from the archives showing Jim Rouse once pitched his backers at the Connecticut General Life Insurance Co. on a 30- to 50-story commercial tower in town center that would be high enough to "gain full visibility of Columbia and, hopefully, to view the full span of the corridor from Baltimore to Washington on a clear day."

Partisans in the fight over a 275-foot condo project are dueling over what the founder really intended since the project was never built. "[Our] feeling is on the negative side as far as Connecticut General having a part in sponsorship or financing the tower," the company said in a letter dated Oct. 6, 1966.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Bills, Bills and More Bills

Gas prices are at record highs, BGE wins state approval for a 50 percent hike in electricity rates, and the Howard County Council raises the fire tax by 8 percent in our part of the county while rejecting an attempt to cut real estate taxes. The Sun says we'll be paying more in real estate taxes because of rising assessments--about $273 on a $450,000 house.

Oh, and this WaPo survey on gas prices suggests we're willing to pay as much as $4.38 a gallon before we cut back on our driving.

The paper is just full of good news today.

How much is too much in your book?

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Arrest In Running Brook

from the police dept...

Police Charge Man in Two Columbia Homicides

Howard County Police charged a Columbia man last night with two murders committed in less than a month. Charles David Richardson, 23, of 5218 Brook Way, was charged with the April 26 homicide of Alevtina Zhilina, 40, at a 7-Eleven store and the May 21 homicide of Trae Allen, 19, in a Columbia townhouse. Richardson was taken into custody without incident yesterday during a traffic stop in Ellicott City.

In the most recent case, investigators learned that a group of people, including Richardson and Allen, had gathered at Richardson’s home the evening of May 20 into the early morning hours of May 21. It was at this location that Allen’s body was later discovered after police received a tip that he had been injured in the house. Detectives located and interviewed witnesses who identified Richardson as the person who shot and killed Allen.

Richardson has been charged with first and second degree murder, first and second degree assault, reckless endangerment and handgun violations in Allen’s death.

While investigating the Allen murder, police received information from a citizen who had overheard Richardson taking responsibility for the murder of Zhilina in a 7-Eleven store. A second citizen, an acquaintance of Richardson’s, also reported to police that Richardson had claimed responsibility for that crime. The citizens’ identities are being withheld for their safety.

In the Zhilina murder, Richardson is charged with first degree murder, manslaughter, second degree assault, attempted robbery and handgun violations.

Evidence from both crime scenes is being analyzed by forensic investigators.

Also charged last night were Kenneth Wayne Sledd, 19, of 6801 Pyramid Way in Columbia, and William Richardson, 22, Charles Richardson’s brother, of 538 Peacock Drive in Landover. Both were in the car with Charles Richardson at the time of the traffic stop. Sledd was charged with aiding and assisting Charles Richardson after Allen’s murder by helping Richardson clean his clothing. A bleach-soaked shirt was found in the car during the traffic stop. William Richardson was charged with possession of marijuana.


Editors’ Note: Police Chief William McMahon will be available to answer media questions at 1 p.m. today at Police Headquarters, 3410 Court House Drive, Ellicott City.

Party On Garth

Oakland Mills is giving away money to beautify cul-de-sacs and hold block parties this summer--how cool is that? We've already put in dibs to flower-fy our little round space; now we're dreaming up reasons to have a party.

Do all villages offer such goodies? Columbia Talk would like to know what others have done in the past. Or what we could do now. Send thoughts or pics.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

More Trouble in Running Brook

Police say a 19-year-old teenager was found dead early Monday evening in a townhouse near his own home, not all that far from the 7-Eleven where a clerk was killed last month. The clerk's death was just the second homicide in Howard County this year. Investigators are treating the latest incident as another possible homicide.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Columbia Triathlon

The local triathlon is a big deal. A Nevada man won after a year of bad luck, and an Olympic bronze medal winner won the women's group. Here's the results.

Making Money

The police and fire unions voted in favor of County Exec Ken Ulman's proposed pay packages that would hike salaries 5 percent and 6 percent respectively a year. The unions say such raises help make county salaries more competitive with those in other jurisdictions, according to this Sun article. Teachers are set to receive 5 percent raises (not counting annual "step" increases for longevity). Nonunion county employees are scheduled to receive just 3 percent, if the increases are approved by the County Council this week, and some are not happy.

The police would get those 5 percent raises for the next two years, and they also negotiated to let some officers take their cars home even if they don't live in the county. Firefighters locked in 6 percent raises for the next four years.

The Sun characterizes the proposals as generous. Here's some food for thought: The Richmond Fed (which covers Maryland) reported that personal income for all of us rose 3.1 percent in 2006. The consumer price index for the Washington-Baltimore metropolitan area (which covers Maryland, DC, Virginia and West Virginia) increased by about 3.6 percent in 2006 over 2005.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Scenes From The Woods

He's real!

A toast to Maryland Wines


Make way!
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Friday, May 18, 2007

Wine In The Woods

It's hard to miss all the purple banners hanging around Symphony Woods these days: Columbia's annual Wine in the Woods event gets underway this weekend, from noon to 6p on Saturday and Sunday. The festival is one of the best ways to sample Maryland wines (18 of 20 state wineries will be on hand), especially since the state does not allow people to have wine shipped to them.

Here's an excerpt from a posting on the industry's Web site, written after the Supreme Court ruled that direct shipping is permissible (just not in Maryland's case).

"A small winery can make 10-15% additional revenue by shipping wines to consumers. And in many direct-ship states, retail stores are also allowed to ship. These stores have quickly found vast new revenue by creating their own wine-of-the-month clubs.

An interesting element of the Supreme Court’s opinion is that it quickly dismissed the two primary concerns about direct shipping – that taxes cannot be collected, and that minors will use the system to obtain alcohol. The justices clearly noted that neither of these concerns are justified, based on years of experience in states that allow the shipping of wine.

The justices also noted that commerce has changed since the repeal of Prohibition – and that Internet, phone and catalog sales have become status quo. States must come to understand this, and let the wine flow across state lines.

So what about Maryland? For now, neither Maryland wineries – nor those from outside our state line – may ship wine to Maryland consumers. While this is likely to change in the coming years under pressure from other states’ wine industries, Maryland wine lovers must log-off the computer, hang up the phone, and stick to the law by purchasing wines the old-fashioned way: with their feet."

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Inside Oak Hill

WaPo's metro columnist Marc Fisher takes a look inside Oak Hill, the DC youth detention center located next to Fort Meade. He finds disgusting conditions---and an experimental effort that turns guards into "youth development specialists" and jail cells into dorm rooms. There is even talk about giving the young inmates puppies to play with.

Sen. Ben Cardin , working with Anne Arundel officials, has been working to see if the decrepit facility should be closed and turned into a park.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Trader Joe's In the Mix?

Add specialty grocer Trader Joe's to the roster of newcomers apparently setting up shop with Lowe's, Best Buy and others at the new big box center under construction at Routes 108 and 175. According to a mention deep in this Sun story, it is coming to Gateway Overlook. There's nothing on the Trader Joe's Web site about the timing, but a search through the company's job postings shows the chain is looking to hire a supervisor for its Columbia store, at $31,000 to $40,000 a year! (Thanks to Hayduke for the heads up).

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Setback For Wheelchair Racers

Atholton's Tatyana McFadden lost her latest court fight to score points for her team in track meets as a wheelchair athlete, according to WaPo. A federal judge said state rules may be unfair but they do violate U.S. law. The state contended that it was following a 40 percent rule, in which at least 40 percent of schools must participate in an event for it to count. (Apparently this is why there are no diving and pole vaulting competitions). Maryland is planning wheelchair events in the upcoming state championships but so far only one other wheelchair athlete has entered.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Bocce Anyone?

An Eagle scout has built bocce courts at Cedar Lane Park. Back in Columbia Talk's formative days, he would often see groups of old men playing the lawn bowling game for hours at the town park in Decatur. Ill., where the grandparents lived. It was as much a social pastime as a competition, like checkers, and a reminder that sometimes life is more fun when things just slow down.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Lance Races Into Columbia

Back in the days of the robocalls before the elections, there was one "personal" appeal that stood out to the Columbia Talk team. Cancer survivor and bicycling hero Lance Armstrong called to urge a vote for a certain local county exec candidate named Ulman. Now the seven-time winner of the Tour de France is coming to Columbia on behalf of a local cancer foundation started by another Ulman, and cancer survivor, Doug (Doug also is president of Lance's foundation).

According to the Sun, Lance will attend some athletic events as part of his appearance in October.

Guess that means it is time to pull in the tummy and search the closet for those padded shorts.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Spying 101

One of the biggest industries around these parts is one that we don't talk about much, because it is all so hush-hush. But the National Security Agency has steadily become more visible and more vocal about its place here, and a Sun report raises some interesting questions about the agency's relationship with education.

To wit, we need to do more to prepare students for the sort of jobs (mathematicians, engineers, linguists) the NSA and its myriad contractors require. "NSA, like others, has to make an investment in future workers at ages 4, 5, 8, 10 years," John C. Inglis, the NSA's deputy director told business leaders, according to the Sun.

So is the public school curriculum set up to do that? Should it be geared to do that? Supporters say the kinds of jobs the NSA supports tend to be well-paying and stable, skills easily transferable in this high-tech age to any number of industries. Plus to get an NSA-related job one needs to have a security clearance, and there is no greater demand in the Washington area than people who have security clearances (plus, wouldn't it be an incentive for young people to keep their noses clean?).

Several local universities have established programs in information security, intelligence analysis and such. Inglis, though, suggests that pursuing those careers "doesn't start at 17...It starts at home. It's a culture"

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Columbia Gumbo

A group of Howard County students took 5th in a prestigious national cooking competition. Working with chef Marc Dixon of Cafe de Paris, they concocted a Maryland, America in Miniature menu that offers a taste of our community.

From an account on the school system's Web site, the kids had one hour to prepare this feast:

Their Italian influenced appetizer was Lump Crabmeat Stuffed Ravioli and Maryland Rockfish Fingers with an Edamame Succotash served in a Dijon Scented Marinara Sauce. This was followed by Glazed Pork Tenderloin with Apple Stuffing; Okra, Julienne Carrots and Celery, a Fluffy Potato Pancake Served on a Bed of Seasoned Mustard Greens and Finished with a Grain Mustard Studded Pork Demi-Glaze, showcasing African American cuisine. The menu finished with a dessert of Hispanic flair that included a Cream-filled Chocolate Empanada served with a Warm Fresh Berry Compote and Sabayon Sauce and Garnished with Toasted Pistachio Nuts.

I'm hungry already!

For their efforts, the kids received a $500 scholarship from Coca-Cola, and $300 in culinary tools.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Preparing For A Dam Emergency

Here's another thing we can worry about. Most of the pretty lakes in town have dams, and those dams could break. According to CA, the Maryland Department of the Environment classifies several as significant or high hazard structures. Which means, watch out if they are breached. Rescue crews and others are scheduled to practice for just such an emergency May 17.

What lakes and ponds bear watching? Centennial Lake in Ellicott City, Lake Elkhorn in the Village of Owen Brown, a pond off Samuel Morse Drive in the Columbia Gateway office park, a pond in the North Laurel Park subdivision off Sewell Avenue, a pond in Wyndemere, a subdivision on Old Scaggsville Road in North Laurel, and Wilde Lake in the Village of Wilde Lake.

Monday, May 7, 2007

We Keep Growing

The latest figures from the state planning office show Howard County's population continues to grow. As of July 1, 2006, Maryland estimates we had 272,452 people, that's up 10 percent from 247,842 in 2000. Just in the last year we added 3,278 people, third highest increase in the state, behind Montgomery and Baltimore counties.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Hold the H20

From the public works dept.....

Mandatory Water Restrictions Take Effect May 18th

ELLICOTT CITY, MD – Director of Public Works Jim Irvin today announced that repairs to a major water delivery main in Baltimore County are not yet complete, and it will be necessary for Howard County to put a mandatory outdoor water ban into effect beginning Friday, May 18.

The Baltimore County water main delivers a significant amount of drinking water to Howard County. Loss of this key water supply continues to reduce Howard County’s ability to meet the additional demand outdoor water use places on the system during warm summer months. In addition, outdoor water restrictions ensure that adequate water supply and pressure are available for basic customer service, especially emergency fire protection. Residents with PRIVATE WELLS ARE NOT AFFECTED by these mandatory restrictions.

The outdoor ban will be in effect all day on holidays and weekends beginning at 6 p.m. on Fridays and continuing until midnight on Sundays.


During restricted days and hours YOU MAY NOT …

• Water lawns

• Wash paved or outdoor surfaces and structures such as streets, roads, sidewalks, driveways, decks, patios, parking areas, tennis courts or vehicles

• Use sprinklers and other automatic watering devices for purposes of irrigation and watering of gardens, landscaped areas, trees, shrubs, and other outdoor plants

• Use water for any non-recycling ornamental purposes such as outdoor waterfalls, misting machines and reflective pools

• Use power washers

• Use water for non-commercial washing or cleaning of mobile equipment including automobiles, trucks, trailers and boats

• Fill or top off swimming pools, unless newly constructed or repaired

During Restricted time YOU MAY …

• Water your garden and house plants or shrubs with buckets, watering cans or a hand-held hose with automatic shutoff type nozzle

• Have your car washed at a commercial car wash

Representatives of the Department of Public Works will enforce these mandatory water use restrictions. Penalties for violating outdoor water restrictions may result in termination of service. The restrictions apply to approximately 66,000 customer accounts in the eastern half of the county.

For more information on water use restrictions, residents may call the Howard County Water Restriction Information Line at (410)313-4949 or the Bureau of Utilities at (410)313-4900.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Pedaling Around Town

CA is sponsoring a bike-about town on Saturday -- an 11-mile tour of the community's bike paths celebrating Columbia's upcoming 40th birthday this year. Forty years! There was a time when two wheels were the only way to travel for a certain member of the ColumbiaTalk team, and every day was an adventure. Bike racks were actually easy to find, and they would be filled with Stingrays, Schwinns and whatnot. Ah well. For a ride down memory lane, see details here.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Free Food

Locally based US Foodservice, which distributes food to hotels and restaurants, is sprung free from Dutch owned Royal Ahold in a $7 billion deal that puts it in the hands of two private-equity firms. The company is still recovering from an accounting scandal that forced out top execs and led to a $1 billion settlement with shareholders. No comment yet on what will happen to the firm going forward. Private equity firms often wring out excess costs -- read cut jobs -- in order to push up profits and get a return on their dollar.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Jail Time

Fresh on the heels of the closing of Jessup's notorious maximum security prison comes talk about what to do with Oak Hill Youth Center in Fort Meade, across Route 32 from the NSA. A detention center for youth offenders from DC, the District is under court order to shut it down by 2009 because of chronic problems with overcrowding, escapes and the like. The city is proposing to rebuild the facility. Anne Arundel and Maryland Sens. Cardin and Mikulski are fighting it, saying part of the 880 acres should become a regional park, according to the Post.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Dredging Up Some Natural History

A little trivia. Every single lake in Maryland is man-made. You can look it up here. The big ponds around these parts are no exception and must be periodically dredged to remain, well, lakes. It's a messy business. The Columbia Association is drawing up plans to work on lakes Elkhorn and Kittamaqundi so they don't revert to marshlands, according to the Sun. Some nearby residents don't want the gunk in their backyard.