Friday, June 27, 2008

Thinking About Bridges

We always enjoy stories about interesting people and companies in our midst. Frederick Gottemoeller, president of Bridgescape LLC in Columbia, is one such person. According to the Sun, the bridge architect recently was recognized by the International Bridge Conference for his work on a new bridge in the city of Hamilton in southwestern Ohio -- earning him the Eugene C. Figg Jr. Medal for Signature Bridges. There, he worked with the community to come up with a design they could be proud of.

Cool enough. But what caught our eye was this:

"The best bridges mix science with aesthetics," he said.

As the architect of the recently completed Woodrow Wilson Bridge over the Potomac River - a 12-lane replacement project that was highly an issue within its communities - he employed similar techniques, he said.

"That bridge connects Alexandria, Va., to Prince George's County, Md. - two somewhat disparate communities with different viewpoints," he said.

Residents settled on a raised bridge with two-thirds of its openings able to accommodate the passage of recreational vessels, but kept a drawbridge that opens during restricted hours.

"I got a lot of satisfaction out of defusing that tension," he said.

We wonder if Mr. Gottemoeller has any ideas about that bridge General Growth would like to build over Lake K. as its grand new entrance downtown?

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Rites of Summer: The Beach Towel Cape

One of Columbia's famous, Michael Chabon, the Pulitzer-winning novelist of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay wrote an essay for the New Yorker a while back on the role of the superhero costume.

My favorite part was his description of his own caped crusader transformation during those lazy, hazy summer-day visits to the neighborhood pool. If ever there was an argument for why we should save the community swimming pool it is this:

I became Aztec in the summer of 1973, in Columbia, Maryland, a planned suburban utopia halfway between Smallville and Metropolis. It happened one summer day as I was walking to the swimming pool with a friend. He wore a pair of midnight-blue bathing trunks; my trunks were loud, with patches of pink, orange, gold, and brown overprinted with abstract patterns that we took for Aztec (though they were probably Polynesian). In those days, a pair of bathing trunks did not in the least resemble the baggy board shorts that boys and men wear swimming today. Ours were made of stretchy polyester doubleknit that came down the thigh just past the level of the crotch, and fashion fitted them with a sewn-on, false belt of elastic webbing that buckled at the front with a metal clasp. They looked, in other words, just like the trunks favored by costumed heroes ever since the last son of Krypton came voguing down the super-catwalk, back in 1938. Around our throats we knotted our beach towels (his was blue, mine a fine 1973 shade of burnt orange), those enchanted cloaks whose power Mr. Spector had failed to understand or to recall from his own childhood. They fluttered out behind us, catching the breeze from our imaginations, as Darklord and Aztec walked along.

Darklord carried a sword, and wore a Barbuta helmet, with a flowing crusader cloak and invulnerable chain mail of “lunar steel.” Aztec wore tights and a feathered cloak and wielded a magic staff tipped with obsidian. We had begun the journey that day, through the street-melting, shimmering green Maryland summer morning, as a pair of lonely boys with nothing in common but that loneliness, which we shared with Superman and Batman, who shared it with each other—a fundamental loneliness and a wild aptitude for transformation. But with every step we became Darklord and Aztec a little more surely, a little more irrevocably, transformed by the green-lantern rays of fancy, by the spider bite of inspiration, by the story we were telling each other and ourselves about two costumed superheroes, about the new selves that had been revealed by our secret skin.

Talking, retying the knots of our capes, flip-flops slapping against the soles of our feet, we transformed not only ourselves. In the space of that walk to the pool we also transformed the world, shaping it into a place in which such things were possible: the reincarnation of an Arthurian knight could find solace and partnership in the company of a latter-day Mesoamerican wizard. An entire world of superheroic adventure could be dreamed up by a couple of boys from Columbia, or Cleveland. And the self you knew you contained, the story you knew you had inside you, might find its way like an emblem onto the spot right over your heart. All we needed to do was accept the standing invitation that superhero comics extended to us by means of a towel. It was an invitation to enter into the world of story, to join in the ongoing business of comic books, and, with the knotting of a magical beach towel, to begin to wear what we knew to be hidden inside us.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Middle Schoolers Need More Class Time

That's according to a Maryland education panel looking into the performance of students in grades 6-8.

Here's Nelson Hernandez's account in WaPo:

To improve middle schools, a Maryland education panel proposed yesterday giving students more class time, ensuring they are ready to complete algebra by eighth grade and enrolling them in a foreign language course by sixth grade.

The Maryland Middle School Steering Committee, a 55-member panel of experts that was launched in 2006, delivered 16 recommendations to the state Board of Education to solve long-standing academic challenges reflected in local initiatives and test scores.

In Maryland, about 81 percent of third-graders show proficiency or better on state-sponsored reading tests and 79 percent in math. Among eighth-graders, 68 percent score at least proficient in reading and 57 percent in math. Educators said they think that students who have trouble in middle school are also at greater risk of dropping out when they reach high school.

Other committee proposals to raise academic performance include providing all students with instruction in fine arts; giving students more practical experience with science, technology, engineering and math; and giving teachers more time for collaboration and planning.

The report's suggestions were broad and included no cost estimates.

Here's a link to the full report (pdf).

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Two Injured In Fall At Patapsco

From the Associated Press via WJZ's Web site:

Fire officials say a couple was seriously injured when they fell about 50 feet from a rock outcropping at Patapsco Valley State Park.

The incident occurred about 8 p.m. Monday, according to Fire Department spokeswoman Elise Armacost. The couple was sitting on the outcropping in a remote area of the park overlooking the Patapsco River, Armacost said, when the woman stood up, slipped, and her male companion grabbed her. They both fell about 50 feet.

A team of doctors from Shock Trauma was flown to the scene and treated the couple. The victims were flown to Shock Trauma in critical condition, Armacost says.

Monday, June 23, 2008

More Folks Carpool, But Where To Park?

The Sun says the commuter parking lots are filling up, prompting county officials to scramble for options. Commuters are complaining that there are no free spaces by 8 a.m. at the 300-space lots on Broken Land and Route 32. Meanwhile, the County Executive Ken Ulman wants to expand a lot on Snowden River and Route 175.

The plan would add 50 spaces, said county spokesman Kevin Enright. The lot has 210 spaces now.

Though the lots are state-owned, the county is willing to pay for the changes so that they can be completed in the next few weeks, Ulman said.

"The issue from my perspective is that gas prices are over $4," he said. "This is the time that we should be encouraging mass-transit ridership and finding more opportunities to increase that ridership in any way we can."

The State Highway Administration has given the county permission to install bike racks at the Snowden River lot, Ulman said, and the county's Department of Public Works has agreed to hasten a project approved in the capital budget to close a gap in the sidewalk leading up to the lot so that people can walk to it.

And while we are on the subject of parking, here's a reminder: Parking fines in HoCo for violating handicap rules go up from $150 to $350 on July 1.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Police To Target Repeat Offenders

After the spate of shootings and other mayhem comes this response from the PD.

From WaPo:

By Lori Aratani
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 19, 2008; HO03

Career criminals in Howard County: Be aware. The police will be watching you more closely.

The Howard County police department plans a special unit that will focus on repeat offenders in hopes of reducing the county's crime rate. "We want to focus on career criminals," Police Chief William McMahon said. "We know that there's a few people who are causing a lot of problems in our community, crime-wise."

Although Howard's crime rate is relatively low compared with other jurisdictions in the Washington region, the county does experience periodic spikes in certain categories.

McMahon said focusing on repeat offenders will be particularly useful in crimes such as robberies and burglaries, for which perpetrators tend to have higher rates of recidivism. The unit initially will include five officers, and officials expect it will be operating by the end of the year.

Officers will try to identify repeat offenders through surveillance, by being more familiar with the terms of an offender's parole and by working with prosecutors to ensure that repeat offenders get appropriate sentences, McMahon said.

According to two frequently cited studies on recidivism by the U.S. Justice Department, more than two-thirds of released prisoners were arrested again within three years. The studies, conducted in 1983 and 1994 by the department's Bureau of Justice Statistics, show that rates of repeat arrest for offenses involving property, drugs and public order were particularly high.

Police departments as diverse as Detroit and San Antonio have created similar units to help weed out career criminals. Locally, Montgomery and Prince George's counties have units for repeat offenders.

Cpl. Stephen Pacheco, a spokesman for the Prince George's police department, said the unit works on some of the department's highest-profile cases. The group has been part of the department's operations for more than 20 years and works within the criminal investigation unit.

He said officers have collaborated with the auto crimes team to target thieves and recover stolen vehicles. In 2005, members of the unit assisted with the arrest of a rape suspect 20 years after the crime.

Experts such as Todd R. Clear, a distinguished professor of criminal justice at John Jay College of Criminal Justice at the City University of New York, say cracking down on repeat offenders won't necessarily stop crime because other criminals will replace them. The key might lie in which types of repeat offenders are targeted, Clear said.

He said getting a repeat sex offender off the street, for instance, could have a permanent effect on a community's crime rate.

Howard's repeat-offenders unit is one of several new policing strategies included in the county's budget for fiscal 2009. The department, which has 423 sworn officers, expects to add 24 positions, including personnel to its child abuse and domestic violence units and a second officer in the gang awareness unit, McMahon said.

The police chief said he knows the repeat-offenders unit won't be a panacea, but it will send an important message to career criminals.

"We should be smart about how we police, and we should focus on those people causing the most problems," he said.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Rites Of Summer: BMX

Columbia Compass has a fun post on the joys of being a BMX pioneer.

Twenty years, no make that twenty-five years ago, I was deep into Bicycle Moto-Cross (BMX). Like most that grew up in the 1970’s, I learned to ride a bicycle with a banana seat and a sissy bar. As I grew up, I progressed to a Schwinn Sting-Ray with five-speed gear shifter, front shocks, and a rear disc brake. That thing weighed, I would guess, 70 pounds. During this time, it was commonplace for us Wilde Lake neighbor kids to cobble together cinder blocks and plywood to emulate every young boy’s hero, Evel Knievel. Over time, I graduated to the ten-speed.

Then something happened. I found my way back to the smaller 20” single speed bikes. These bikes were made of stronger, lightweight metals. They could take a pounding. They were highly maneuverable and FUN TO RIDE.

Boy that takes us back. We were never into BMX per se, but we lived on our bikes. We rode all over town, and even took a trip or two along sleepy 108 to Tridelphia Reservoir (don't try that today kids). Recently, we pulled the bikes out of the garage to ride over to the club in the cool mornings.

Baby, there's nothing like it.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Show Goes On

For HoCo govt:

Howard County’s annual July 4th Festival and fireworks display will be held on Friday, July 4 beginning at 5:00 p.m. at the Downtown Columbia Lakefront. Rain date for the fireworks only is Sunday, July 6.

“Earlier this year when the Kiwanis Club of Columbia announced it would be unable to sponsor the 4th of July celebration and fireworks, I promised the county would make sure the ‘show would go on,’” said County Executive Ken Ulman. “I want to thank the Kiwanis Club members and all of the volunteers who have spent so many years hosting Howard County’s 4th of July celebration.”

Ulman continued, “We’re quickly discovering just how much work it took and how many hours this volunteer organization put in to make the 4th of July celebration such a success. I want to thank Gary Arthur and the Department of Recreation & Parks’ staff for taking on this extra responsibility, all the other county agencies and the Columbia Association who are pitching in to help us get the job done this year.”

The Festival will kickoff at 5 p.m. with live entertainment on two stages and performances by the Patty Reese Band, the Players Band and Damon Foreman & Blue Funk. The second stage will host children’s entertainment and feature The Kinderman and juggler and stilt man Wes Holly. Kids can also participate in carnival games and crafts, all with a “Stars & Stripes” theme.

Bring a picnic or purchase food from one of the vendors on site. Parking is free; and on the day of the event, 1700AM radio will carry up-to-date traffic and parking information.

To view the entire schedule for the July 4th festivities go to the Howard County Government Web site, or call Ella Carter at the Department of Recreation & Parks at 410-313-1671.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

What's With All The Yellow Signs....

about the water quality of the stream feeding into Lake Elkhorn? We know we read about a storm-related wastewater discharge in this related? Can someone help. We can't find anything on CA's site, or the Owen Brown Village Board or county government.

This will be our little experiment in community news gathering.

Monday, June 16, 2008

School Lunch Prices To Rise

Anyone who's been to the supermarket lately knows prices having been going up up up. The school board has decided to hike the cost of lunch by 25 cents, according to the Flier/Sun's local blog:

The price of breakfast at all schools will rise from $1.50 to $1.75. Elementary school lunch will increase from $2.25 to $2.50, while middle and high school lunches will go from $2.75 to $3. The “signature” high school lunches will jump from $3.50 to $3.75.

At the June 12 meeting, Mary Klatko, who heads the system’s meals program, told the board that in the coming year food and supply costs are projected to increase by 10 to 20 percent over current costs.

Friday, June 13, 2008

A Little Shameless Promotion

Watch this space! On Friday June 13, 2008 at about 8:30 am you'll see a live Webcast of the BlogPotomac unconference here in DC. We've been asked to speak wearing one of our other hats --- that as local business editor of The Washington Post.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Get Ready To Share The Road And Rails

Is a reverse commute in Howard's future? The Examiner reports that a recent survey by the Defense Information Systems Agency, which is moving to Fort Meade from Arlington in 2010, showed that many of its 5,000 employees plan to commute to the area from Virginia.

Officials have long conceded that the major highways around Fort Meade — Routes 295, 175 and 198 — will not widened by August 2011, which is when DISA expects to have all of its offices at Fort Meade.

A likely choice for DISA commuters is the MARC train system’s Penn Line, which connects Washington, D.C.’s Union Station, Fort Meade and Harford’s Aberdeen Proving Ground, another military installation with planned expansion because of the Base Realignment and Closure process.

Maryland officials plan to add 15,400 seats to the Penn Line by 2015, but its biggest expansion, with 16,000 more seats and a Northern Virginia expansion at an estimated cost of $1.3 billion, is slated for 2020.

The MARC system now is operating over its 27,000 daily trip capacity, officials said.

To improve transit options, officials are considering connecting MARC and its southern counterpart, Virginia Railway Express, and creating a Smart Card that combines charges for MARC, VRE and the D.C. Metro services.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

$4 Gas And Questions For The Panel

In a world of $4 and up, up, up, a gallon gasoline, whither Columbia, the new town situated "conveniently" between Baltimore and Washington?

Whither real estate values?

Big box stores?

Regional grocery stores; restaurant parks?

"Travel" sports?

Man, is the cost of fuel eating a hole in my wallet.

Here's a bit from a WaPo story this morning:

In a society nurtured on cheap gasoline, the high fuel prices are having disparate effects: the end of free pizza deliveries at major franchises, a plunge in the sales of sport-utility vehicles, a steep drop in the price of houses that are far from jobs or mass transit....

"It saps people's purchasing power," said Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody's "If they have to spend more to fill their gas tanks and heat their homes, everything suffers." He added that he worries that "the surge in energy prices overwhelms the economy if we stay here for very long."

Zandi said energy costs -- including electricity, gasoline and heating -- now account for about 6.5 percent of the average household budget. For the poorer half of the nation's households, energy costs are gobbling up close to 10 percent of family budgets.

Although the $4 barrier has symbolic importance, the bite out of household budgets is real. AAA calculates that the gasoline cost of commuting from Washington area suburbs to the District has increased sharply over the past year. The cost of the 44-mile round trip between Fairfax City and downtown Washington has risen to $8.93 a day from $6.78 last year for a commuter driving a car with average fuel efficiency. The cost of the 88-mile round trip between Frederick and the District has risen to $17.86 a day from $13.24.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Everyone In The Pool

Yup, it's hot outside. We think we lost about 10 pounds over the weekend just mowing the lawn and doing a little yardwork.

Which made us think about the pool, and then we saw this on a local listserv:

CA residents who are not members of the pools or Package Plan will be offered the opportunity to visit any of CA’s 23 outdoor pools on the second Sunday of each month during the summer at no charge. The dates are Sunday, July 13 and Sunday August 10.

Residents must have a CA Resident Card to participate. Resident cards may be obtained at no cost from CA Headquarters. You must bring address verification in the form of a driver’s license or imprinted personal check and dependent children’s birth certificates is required to obtain free CA Resident cards. For more information call 410-730-1801.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Community For Some?

Sounds like some folks are wondering what happened to the "community" college. The Flier reports that Howard Community College officials have told some private dance studios and the like they will no longer be welcome at the school's Smith Theatre.

In November, when the theater reopens after a 10-month renovation, the college will begin turning away the majority of outside organizations that seek to rent the facility.

College officials say the new policy is necessary to provide enough performance opportunities for in-house programs and partners of the college.

They also cite restrictions tied to county bonds used to fund the renovation that prevent the college from making a profit from renting the facility. The restrictions led officials to become more "choosy" about booking outside events in the theater, said Valerie Lash, chairwoman of the college's arts and humanities division.

In its lead editorial, the Flier opines that the demand for performance space points to the need for the kinds of arts centers proposed by General Growth Properties for downtown Columbia.

One point in the story and editorial is not quite clear to us: Do publicly financed schools have to charge fees that produce profits?

Thursday, June 5, 2008

We've Got Some Cleaning Up To Do

Mommy Nature was not pleased last night. A piece of the gutter came down. The barbeque grill was overturned. Tree debris is everywhere. It coulda been worse. Thankfully, Columbia buried its power lines underground.

And thankfully, no kids were on this playground:

Or walking on the path:

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Last Chance To Get Second Chance?

The Sun reports that two prospective business people have applied for a liquor license to reopen a restaurant in the Oakland Mills space once occupied by the Last Chance Saloon.

Wendy Binder, 49, of Burtonsville is the primary applicant for what she and minority partner Declan Wood plan to call the "Second Chance Saloon."

She said she chose the name because she wants to evoke the friendly, neighborhood pub style of the once-popular watering hole that closed in 2004 after 23 years. The last business in the building, the Fire Rock Grill, opened in December 2005 and closed last fall.

"It feels right," said Binder, who said she works part time at the National Science Teachers Association in Arlington, Va.

"I think we have good business sense," she said.

Her idea is to remove the wall between the bar area and the main dining room, leaving the back room for pool, darts and other games.

We'll be eager to get back to the darts board. We have a couple scores to settle.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Local Eating

We've been sampling the posts at a blog for Howard foodies and it's making us hungry!

Give HowChow a look. We found this item on the Tararind Maracas at Lily's Mexican Market to be amusing:

Great fun, but don't give to any children that you actually like.

The Tamarind Maraca is a sweet, tart and spicy candy. Imagine a chewy lollipop with the consistency of gummy bears. It's tart, almost sour, and sweet. But dusted with hot pepper. A treat for an adult. An impolite trick for any child accustomed to taste "Power Berry" or "Cran-Apple-Sugar."

Tamarind is a popular flavor in Mexican food, especially candy and sodas like the "Boing!" soft drink pictured with the Tamarind Maraca to the left. The paste tastes sour to me, but, like lemon, the flavor mixes well with sugar or used in sweet-sour cooking.

The "maracas" are a two-lollipop package sold for $1.69 at Lily's Mexican Market in Columbia. They're named for those "shaker" instruments.

Lily's Mexican Market
6476 Dobbin Center Way
Columbia, MD 21045

NEAR: The DMV off Dobbins Road just south of Rte 175. Turn into the center at the intersection with a Blockbuster. Sushi King and the DMV are in the same shopping center.

Recipes can be found here that use Tamarind pulp that you can also buy at Lily's.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Pfeifer Moves On

Centennial's principal Scott Pfeifer is leaving the county school system to take a job with state, where he will head the Maryland Department of Education's high school assessment and reform efforts, starting July 1, according to the Sun.

Before working at Centennial, Pfeifer served as the first principal of River Hill High School. He also was principal at Atholton High School when it was named a Blue-Ribbon School. In 1993, he received the Milken National Educator Award. Pfeifer is completing a four-year term on the board of the National Association of Secondary School Principals.

We knew him way back when, in the days he taught at Wilde Lake High.

We'll be curious to watch him make the transition. Heading up high school reform can be a thankless task, given all the competing agendas out there. Then again, the job can be a stepping stone to a higher administrative role or a cushy private sector position. The current occupant, R. Daniel Cunningham, lasted only 18 months. Cunningham is joining the staff of the college board.