Friday, September 28, 2007

A Final Talk

Flier sports columnist Stan Ber turned us on to this: Former Oakland Mills grad, Howard High English teacher and now Carnegie Mellon professor Randy Pausch gave a moving talk at the university recently about what he might say if he knew he was going to die soon.

According to a WSJ story (subscription required), such talks by big name professors are common on college campuses, a chance to muse hypothetically about what matters most to them. This one was a bit different, Pausch has pancreatic cancer and really doesn't have much time.

Here's a little excerpt from the Journal piece:

"He began by showing his CT scans, revealing 10 tumors on his liver. But after that, he talked about living. If anyone expected him to be morose, he said, 'I'm sorry to disappoint you.' He then dropped to the floor and did one-handed pushups.

"Clicking through photos of himself as a boy, he talked about his childhood dreams: to win giant stuffed animals at carnivals, to walk in zero gravity, to design Disney rides, to write a World Book entry. By adulthood, he had achieved each goal. As proof, he had students carry out all the huge stuffed animals he'd won in his life, which he gave to audience members. After all, he doesn't need them anymore.

"He paid tribute to his techie background. 'I've experienced a deathbed conversion,' he said, smiling. 'I just bought a Macintosh.' Flashing his rejection letters on the screen, he talked about setbacks in his career, repeating: 'Brick walls are there for a reason. They let us prove how badly we want things.' He encouraged us to be patient with others. 'Wait long enough, and people will surprise and impress you.' "

The WSJ has a link to a video of his talk, but it's behind the paid subscription wall. You also can see his talk on YouTube.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Stuck In The Mud

Has anyone had a look at Triadelphia Reservoir lately? Water levels are low, the result of the ongoing drought.

Not that we particularly want to complain about the weather lately.

The folks who manage the Triadelphia recreation area have closed the boat ramps and grounds because some boaters were getting stuck in the mud, according to this release. Car and truck access to other boat ramps in the area have already been closed, but not just because of the drought.

Officials announced in August that they were draining some of Rocky Gorge to perform maintenance on the reservoir. That was a relief to us, because we were getting worried about the growing brown rim as we trekked across the Route 29 bridge in recent days.

The Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission, which manages the reservoirs, notes that kayaks and other hand-carried boats may still be used at Rocky Gorge, Scott’s Cover and Supplee Lane, and the ramp at Greenbridge is open.

Boating is permitted only from March 1 through December 15.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Back to eSchooling

It's back to school season, a time when we at Columbia Talk get to meet the folks who spend so much time with our not-so-little ones. We're always curious here at Talk Central to see what progress, if any, teachers are making with integrating technology into their daily activities.

Our experience is that it depends greatly on the teacher. Some have robust Web sites, with homework assignments posted daily, links to extra help, e-mail addresses, even grade books. We can't emphasize enough how grateful we are for such teachers, especially when the not-so-little ones announce late on a weekday night that they have this little project that's due in the morning.

Most teachers kind of do it halfway. They post homework assignments, but not grades. Some links work and others don't. They have an e-mail address, but may not check it all that often. (Sounds like certain bloggers we know).

And then there are the ones who either promise to have a Web site at back to school night, only to never be heard from again. Or they just don't believe in the Internet thing. Or they won't do it until they are given the planning time (or more pay) to do it.

We hear that some schools have adopted software packages to bring consistency to all this, but not every school has seen the wisdom.

At the back to school night we attended, many of the questions from parents (aside from how the not-so-little ones are doing) dealt with what was available online. Perhaps that's because for so many parents in a county like ours, the Internet is a key conduit of communication.

The schools seem to be coming to this realization, albeit slowly.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Mean Green?

The Sun's environmental blog says tonight's town hall meeting on global warming and one energy company's response to it, brought to you by ConocoPhillips, is likely to be met by environmental activists from the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. They are "urging people to turn out in large numbers -- with protest signs, and pointed questions to prevent any 'greenwashing' of the company's record."

According to a ConocoPhillips Web site, the company is "hosting town hall meetings and community events in 35 cities throughout America, bringing together energy experts and concerned citizens to discuss ways to secure our energy future."

The meeting starts at 7p at the Sheraton Columbia Hotel, according to this notice. The "conversation on energy" is being hosted by ConocoPhillips and the University of Maryland Energy Research Center.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Mojitos and Salsa

Holy Cow! Diversity in Howard!

WaPo discovers a little Latin flair in Howard when it stops by a pachanga Cubana over the weekend.

"The sounds of Cuban salsa soar amid the tall oak trees, the minty mojitos are flowing like water. Among the 100 or so politicos, entrepreneurs, bankers and social service managers gathered yesterday afternoon and evening around the swimming pool, there are more guayaberas than sports coats. They're feasting on Cuban classics like ropa vieja (beef) and lechon (pork), followed by flan and tres leches, then strong coffee and long cigars -- not from Cuba, alas, the puffing men complain in mock dismay, but from Honduras.

"Pachanga Howard? Latino middle-class professionals have long since spread beyond the typical Latino neighborhoods in and around Washington. In common with professionals the world over, they like to party and to network. This pachanga -- a word that Cubans in particular use to mean 'big party' -- is supposed to combine both passions of the multi-tasking careerist. Leave your stuffy work inhibitions at home.

"The hosts are Enrique Carrillo, director of Hispanic banking for Chevy Chase Bank, and his wife, Maria, a doctor who specializes in pulmonary critical care. Enrique Carrillo likes to say he's 'American with Cuban parts' -- his parents fled Castro and he was born in the United States -- while Maria Carrillo was born in Cuba. But Cubans are actually in the minority here in the Carrillo back yard, their big brick home thrown open to natives from at least a dozen Latin American countries, along with several appreciative gringos."

Carrillo recently moved to the county from Detroit, where his parties were a big deal.

"He wrote a memo for his bosses at Chevy Chase, who had never heard of such a thing. But then, Carrillo has been hired to institute change. Thanks to him, when you call the bank's main number, the second sentence you hear is "Gracias por llamar a Chevy Chase Bank" -- "Thank you for calling Chevy Chase Bank." The phrase "Hablamos su idioma" -- "We speak your language" -- is now part of the bank's marketing. Some other banks are ahead of Chevy Chase in reaching out to Latinos, but Carrillo says he wants to set a new standard.

"Bringing people together, what a wonderful thing to do, and that's what I like to do," Carrillo says.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Beer On Wheels

Some of the folks who live by the Fairway Hills golf course are not so enchanted with the idea of CA selling beer from the snack carts rolling around the links.

They've assembled a pretty good list of reasons, according to this article in the Flier:

* The beverages could impair golfer's coordination.

* Intoxicated golfers might be more likely to relieve themselves on residential property when nature calls.

* More balls could come flying into nearby yards and houses.

* Unsportsmanlike conduct might become more common.

* Golfers should stick to wine.

OK, we made that last one up. CA says it is already selling beer from carts at Hobbits Glen and one manager that the homeowner's organization does not intend to just let people "slosh down" the cold stuff.

We don't know how this one will turn out but we wouldn't mind if one of those carts swings by our little cul-de-sac late one afternoon this weekend.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Columbia's Destiny

Say what you like about the prospects for a mammoth, huge, gigantic, towering 275-foot skyscraper in downtown Columbia, but the debate over this single building --- like the conversation going on over the proposed Wegman's --- has stirred real discussion about the future of this fair town.

According to WaPo's account of this week's council meeting on the highrise condo, both sides invoked the name of Rouse in saying he would or would not have approved of where we are headed. Suddenly, everyone wants to talk about the Next America again.

One wonders if the nature of the debates would be any different if they played out not before county planning commissions and councils but a panel of Columbia elders.

What if we controlled our own destiny?

Isn't that what Father Rouse really wanted?

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Presidential Visit

The pres is scheduled to journey our fair corner of the world today, stopping over at the NSA, as part of a public relations push to extend the Protect America Act. Such visits used to be big deals---we remember when a stop by Swedish King Carl Gustav XVI made the girls swoon at Bryant Woods back in, what, 1976?

But now we wonder if anyone other than the national media will notice. If a president stops at a super secret intelligence installation and the general public isn't around to witness, does it happen?

It probably depends. Back on our anniversary tour of Monterey, Calif., we stopped by a state park filled with giant coastal Redwoods. The better half of the Columbia Team remarked that if one of those babies decided to relocate, you'd hear it.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Watching Our Seafood

One of the stops on the Columbia Talk anniversary tour last week was Monterey Bay, Calif., where most folks seem pretty serious about the environment. There was lots of discussion about airplanes spraying pesticides to counter the voracious light brown apple moth. And just about every restaurant boasted that it only served "sustainable" seafood, as outlined in these nifty little guides prepared by the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Here's how the aquarium folks describe what's best to eat: "Our 'Best Choices' are abundant, well managed and fished or farmed in environmentally friendly ways. Seafood to 'Avoid' are overfished and/or fished or farmed in ways that harm other marine life or the environment. You can view the guides online or download a pocket-size version."

There's regional differences. When we told people we enjoyed our rockfish in Maryland, we often drew gasps of horror. The West Coast thinks of rockfish as snapper and cod, and they are mostly on the avoid list. We call striped bass as rockfish, and we were relieved to discover that is a best choice according to the Monterey guides.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Iron Dog

The Columbia Talk team has been away for a week celebrating our anniversary. We returned to find this WaPo story about the Iron Dog triathlon at Fort Meade. The week-long competition involves military dogs and their handlers throughout the Washington region.

"The first few days, the teams competed for points in narcotics and explosion detection events, during which K-9 units tried to locate anything from TNT strapped on car engine blocks to stashes of marijuana and cocaine planted in a warehouse.

"Then on Wednesday came the 'hardest-hitting' dog contest, a favorite among the soldiers, in which the dogs are given a short distance to build up speed and launch into a bite and tackle on a pretend suspect.

Finally the triathlon: A race that include a tough three-mile run through the woods, an obstacle course that forces dog and handler to crawl on their bellies and jump over barriers, and what the story describes as a "30-second window to pump 10 rounds through a distant bull's-eye."

We asked the Columbia Talk lab whether she was up for the challenge but she barked that she isn't really the "bite and tackle" sort.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Wailing At Wegmans

The Flier this week reports on a mystery: Who's distributing the anti-Wegmans leaflets around Owen Brown, Long Reach and Oakland Mills? The story quotes a Long Reach board member who says she's mystified because everyone she's talked to has been very positive. (We assume she doesn't talk to some of the people who write letters to the editor.) Liz Bobo, the state delegate, has talked to people who have concerns about the effect of the mega-store on some of the village center groceries. No telling if they also own a leaflet printing press; the story doesn't offer their names.

Opposition to Wegmans has flared up elsewhere, most recently in Prince George's, where a man with ties to union types has filed a lawsuit.

There's lots of denouncing going on, but the leaflet has served its purpose and stirred the pot. We have no dog in this fight; just questions. Is the arrival of a Wegmans really a planning department issue? Or is it really about grocery competition, or union versus nonunion jobs, or a longing for the good old days when village centers were the center of things?

If it is about planning, then is a Wegmans any more an industrial use that the other big boxes, strip shopping centers, car dealers and restaurants that have taken up quarters in east Columbia? Who let the horse out of that barn?

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Finally, No More Water Restrictions

What will we do with ourselves now that we can't fret about the water?

On Tuesday, the county lifted its four-month restriction on outdoor water use. The ban had been put in place while the county repaired major water mains serving the eastern part of the county. Here's what the county had to say.

According to the Sun's weather blog, Baltimore's "three-month summer period was the 48th warmest in 135 years of record-keeping, and the 24th driest. There were 33 days from June through August with temperatures in the 90s or higher. That compares with an average of just 25."

We like the idea of water conservation, regardless of the ban. Then of course, there are a couple pretty dirty cars parked outside....

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

The Community College Bachelor's Degree

Howard Community College has teamed up with an online university to offer a real-live bachelor's degree program, according to this release. There are 15 degree programs on the list and the price is right, $250 a credit ($114 a credit for HCC classes). Excelsior College, a private nonprofit school based in Albany, NY, will accept up to 90 credits from HCC.

The Sun says HCC students typically attend the community college for two years, earning 60 credits for an associate's degree. Under the new partnership, students will be able to remain at HCC for an additional 30 credits if they plan to pursue a degree through Excelsior.

Excelsior used to be known as Regents College, and it has 28,000 students nationwide.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Lottery Dreams

We just returned from a long weekend "camping" at Hershey Park where one of the discussions around the campfire was what would be the first thing we'd buy if we hit the lottery jackpot. Mrs. Talk said she'd go out and buy a car with all the bells and whistles. "A car!" we exclaimed, "we've already got three of the them!"

Apparently, she wasn't alone in her lottery dreams. Getting a new car is exactly what the real winner did, buying a Ford here in Columbia.