Way..... Out there !

Way..... Out there !
Deepest, most colorful Hubble image yet of our universe. Click for info.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas! & A Happy New Year!

Frosty had to run before the rains hit and washed him away, but he left a message: "Merry Christmas to everyone, and a Very Happy New Year!"

Couldn't have said it better myself. But back in 1823, someone did say it better: Maj. Henry Livingston (or Clement Clarke Moore, depending on rather thin evidence) in the poem: A Visit from St. Nicholas. Go read this Wikipedia discussion, then the poem itself. It's a classic for good reason.


John L.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

It's Give Back Time !

Got some free time, or spare change burning a hole in your pocket? Trundle on down to the Volunteer Center for Anne Arundel County and sign up to give back a bit to this wonderful world/nation/state/county. Their website notes:

Since the Volunteer Center opened in 2001, we have referred more than 13,000 volunteers to over 300 nonprofit, governmental and faith-based agencies creating nearly $2 Million of added value to our County in volunteer time per year. The bottom line is volunteering isn’t just nice, it’s necessary to solving some of our toughest local challenges. In this time of goodwill, the Volunteer Center needs your support to recruit, train and deploy people who want to play a part in meeting our community’s critical needs.

Do it now! You'll be glad you did!

John L.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

We Aren't the First to Live Here...

This point was found here in early September by Nancy Rothe while she was digging potatoes in her back yard garden.

Archeologists at an AA County Chapter meeting of the Archeological Society of Maryland agreed that this projectile point is made of rhyolite, a volcanic rock that is not found locally (the rocks underlying Hallmark Woods are primarily sedimentary). It probably came from a site in Frederick County, Maryland. The Indians are known to have traveled there to collect material to bring back home to flake their points..

It is a 'dart point' rather than an arrowhead, which means it was hafted to a spear which was thrown with an atlatl, a sort of throwing stick that enabled greater speed and range.

The tip and stem are broken off, which is not uncommon in such finds. Points were valuable, so unless lost they were re-flaked and reused, and were not discarded until broken beyond repair. The point appears to be from the Archaic period of ca. 2000 b.c.

The archeologists agreed that it is probable that more could be found nearby, so keep your eyes open, and you may get lucky.

Nancy Rothe

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Why is Reform Dragging? ...and a Reality Check

Considering how many problems there are with our slapdash health care system, you'd think meaningful reform would be a snap.... right? But it drags, and now the U.S. Congress is fleeing town for their well-earned (sic) summer vacation with the job barely begun.

A large part of the problem was outlined yesterday by Steven Pearlstein in his column in the Washington Post. And Steve Benen attempted an analysis in his column, Political Animal in The Washington Monthly today.

Finally, the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives has offered another post in her MythBusting series, explaining the truth behind the false allegations being spread by some opponents of health care reform.

It affects all of us, sooner or later. If you care at all, contact your elected reps in Congress (links in earlier post here).

John L.

UPDATE: More MythBusting, this time from the horse's mouth, the White House's new Reality Check website. -JL-

Thursday, August 6, 2009

There Goes the Neighborhood!

For years, the house at 2176 Hallmark has sat empty, lonely, hoping someone would come back to bring life to its empty rooms again. But alas! Decay set in; it developed a bumper crop of mold, especially after a water leak in the basement and damage to the back of the roof. And today, Thursday, August sixth, 2009, the old house met its fate.

By the time your intrepid editor reached the scene (about 3 p.m.), most of the house had been mashed and hauled away. But there was still the basement and the concrete slabs within.

Just a few sticks left... and they go directly into the rolloff/dumpster.

The contractor said the site will be leveled and smoothed over–just another empty lot when they are finished. The concrete pieces are to be recycled, as apparently will be aluminum parts. But most of the old, moldy house will just have to rest forever in the county landfill. Plans now are to rebuild on the site in a year or two.

Ave atque vale! Old House!

John L.

GONE! Indeed the contractors did right by the site, leveled and seeded. (13 August 2009)


Thursday, July 30, 2009

Health Care Reform

Although not just a Hallmark Woods issue, Health Care Reform being considered right now in the U.S. Congress will affect us all.  Here's a couple of websites with the facts on the proposals, and also the websites of our Congressional delegation should you want to let them know what you think....

From the U.S. House of Representatives, the Speaker's Health Insurance Mythbusting page.

U.S. Representative John Sarbanes website.

If we don't speak up, we'll get the status quo. That's expensive for everyone and disastrous for many. America can do better.

John L. 
"oldbot" on Twitter 

Friday, July 17, 2009

Tomato Crop Threatened by Fungus

Home gardens, as well as commercial fields, are seriously threatened by an unusual outbreak of the fungus known as "late blight", apparently due to the very wet conditions earlier in the year, according to a report in the NY Times today. The article notes:

"A highly contagious fungus that destroys tomato plants has quickly spread to nearly every state in the Northeast and the mid-Atlantic, and the weather over the next week may determine whether the outbreak abates or whether tomato crops are ruined, according to federal and state agriculture officials."

Check your tomatoes carefully for signs of the blight; if there's anything like the infection shown in the photo, pull them out immediately, seal them in a plastic bag, and send them to the landfill. If you don't, and compost the infected plants instead, the spores will infect your compost and therefore future crops in your garden. The blight is related to one that caused the Irish Potato Famine of the mid-19th century.

A really good source of further information on this and other garden problems is Cornell University's Vegetable Diseases website. Worth bookmarking!

John L.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Horror in Iran — And the Beauty

A staple saying of American patriotism is: "Freedom isn't Free!" Nowhere is this better illustrated these days than in Iran, where a popular protest against what people worldwide see as a rigged election outcome is being met with brute force by government thugs. Peaceful marches of millions of Iranians have been broken up by attackers with clubs, tear gas, and guns.

There isn't much outsiders can do about it—any interference (real or manufactured) is seized upon by the government of Iran in an effort to shift the blame for the problem to anyone or anywhere but them. Nonetheless, we can keep up to date and issue what encouragement we can to the protesters through Twitter (add hashtag #iranelection to your posts, and search for that tag to see the tens of thousands of others). President Obama has issued cautious statements condemning the violence, but wisely avoiding overt endorsement of the protests.

News of the protests can be found at the New York Times' blog The Lede; as well as at the Huffington Post's Iran Updates blog by the indefatigable Nico Pitney. There is also a good running account of important events on the blog of the (U.S.) National Iranian-American Council. A website in the name of Mir Hossein Mousavi (the allegedly defeated candidate in the elections) is useful, and Mousavi has his own (official) page on Facebook, too (partly in Persian). Finally, the Twitspam website keeps tabs on garbage posts on Twitter from internet trolls and Iranian government disinformation efforts.

John L.

Fascinating Tehran: Not everything in the capital of Iran is ablaze with conflict. It's generally a large, modern city, as shown in these photos posted by a native. Note that there are two pages of pix, linked at the bottom of the page.


Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Miracle on Hallmark Drive !

Only a few days ago I lamented the once-again weedy appearance of our entrance area. But what a difference a few days has made! The weeds have been banished, and there are new plantings by the electrical box and by our sign, which seems to have been moved to better advertise our existence.

It looks as though the beds over the creek remain untouched; perhaps the directors ran out of money? (Who can tell? There are no reports or minutes of their meetings on the HW website.) But the two areas that have been updated begin to look good.... almost as though the people here are actually proud of their community and its appearance.

I'd have photos of the new plantings, but it's been rainy. Soon......

John L.

Fathers' Day: The rains stopped for the nonce, so here's a couple of images of our wonderful new entrance.

Getting there.... someday!


Friday, June 12, 2009

Stealth Board of Directors?

Has anyone else noticed? The Hallmark Woods website no longer has any minutes of any meetings: not the board of directors, not the annual meeting, nada! There's only a lame notice of cancellation of the directors' scheduled June 1 meeting.

Are there no minutes? Or are they just no longer being shared with the community? Maybe if enough HW residents ask.....??? Or maybe the directors really aren't doing anything?

And what became of the vaunted new entrance landscaping? No signs of life there, either, just ever-growing weeds, and another lame line on the website urging us to watch for the new landscaping..... zzzzzzzzz.....

John L.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Rainscaping — Keep Pollution Out of the Bay

The Rainscaping campaign is underway... there 's a website, signs you can post, example rain gardens to visit, and now a video on YouTube featuring the program's sparkplug, Zora Lathan. In a recent report to participants, she wrote:

The RainScaping Campaign—an Environmental Partnership for Stormwater Runoff Solutions—currently has 37 (and growing) partners, all with a common purpose of improving the health of our tributaries and the Chesapeake Bay by motivating a critical mass of residents to make RainScaping the norm in Anne Arundel County. After more than a year of planning and development, the RainScaping Campaign, including RainScaping.org, was officially launched on Earth Day, April 22, 2009, to encourage residents to practice “RainScaping…Beautiful Solutions to Water Pollution.” RainScaping, aka Low Impact Development (LID), is a broad term for a series of landscaping technique, including the installation of rain gardens, using rain barrels, planting native trees and shrubs, replacing impervious surfaces with permeable surfaces and more—all of which reduce polluted runoff.....

Check it out. Consider installing a rain garden in your own yard. Or a rain barrel to catch some of the wasted water from your house's downspouts. Or volunteer to help out. Little by little we can Save The Bay!

John L.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

It Can't Happen Here..... — UPDATED

He was just riding his bike in his neighborhood when they came at him. Maybe seven older boys who thought it acceptable behavior to slug Christopher Jones in the head. But there were eyewitnesses as Jones tried to pedal away but fell from his bike and hit his head on the street. He died. Last night there was a vigil for the kid on the street where he died.... the street by his house. The Baltimore Sun had the story:

"I want to encourage you tonight to make a choice to give up the violence … not retaliate, to forgive," Pastor Dennis Gray, of the Riva Trace Baptist Church, told the crowd, many of them teens, gathered at the spot where Christopher D. Jones was fatally injured Saturday in his Crofton neighborhood.

Could this happen in Hallmark Woods? Read the story in the Sun. In an earlier story in The Washington Post, Jones' mother had it right: it could happen anywhere. Even in a nice, clean, upscale neighborhood with neat little brick houses.

We can pray for Christopher, and go leave flowers at the memorial on his street. But we also need to promise ourselves to do whatever it takes to see that our kids know the difference between right and wrong, and that they have the inner strength to always stand firmly for the right.

John L.

"Hours after the funeral for Christopher David Jones, police Chief Col. James Teare Sr. told a crowd of more than 500 people to expect to see a mobile command unit, along with foot and bicycle patrols in their Crofton-area neighborhoods."

Wanna bet it doesn't last? What will be the situation a year from now? Will the cops still be there? Will the parents step up?


Update 2: Today (Wed. 10 June) the Baltimore Sun has more. Seems a firebombing in Odenton may have been an attempt at revenge for Christopher's death.


Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Problem With the Bay — It's Us !

Years and years of bumper stickers ("Save the Bay") and cleanup days, not to mention importuning politicians have failed to clean up the Chesapeake Bay. In fact, it's getting inexorably worse. The basic problem, generally ignored until now, is addressed in an article in The Chesapeake Bay Journal written by Lara Lutz.

In the early days of the Bay cleanup efforts, public presentations about the Chesapeake often included an illustration from the comic strip "Pogo," with the character's famous saying, "We have met the enemy, and he is us."

If so, the Bay has more enemies than ever. In the years since those outreach efforts took place in the mid-1980s, nearly 3 million more people have arrived in Bay's watershed. They consume forests and farmland, and generate pollution.

Now, as the human population of the Bay watershed cruises toward 17 million, author and conservationist Tom Horton is asking hard questions about the Bay's biggest long-term problem: growth.

What to do? The article has many suggestions, but may still not address the fundamental problem: there's just too many people around. And if they don't live here, where will they – and all the associated problems – live? And if we don't like the Chinese solution (one child per family, or else...), what will we do?

I hope you will read the article and ponder its implications for all of us. For it isn't somebody else's problem: it's ours.

John L.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

President Shakes Up Chesapeake Bay Restoration

Noting the general lack of progress in cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay (something your editor has also noticed at first hand... the water is like a thick soup of murky sediment), President Obama has ordered a renewed federal effort. His executive order of May 12, 2009, begins:

The pollutants that are largely responsible for pollution of the Chesapeake Bay are nutrients, in the form of nitrogen and phosphorus, and sediment. These pollutants come from many sources, including sewage treatment plants, city streets, development sites, agricultural operations, and deposition from the air onto the waters of the Chesapeake Bay and the lands of the watershed.

Restoration of the health of the Chesapeake Bay will require a renewed commitment to controlling pollution from all sources as well as protecting and restoring habitat and living resources, conserving lands, and improving management of natural resources, all of which contribute to improved water quality and ecosystem health. The Federal Government should lead this effort. Executive departments and agencies (agencies), working in collaboration, can use their expertise and resources to contribute significantly to improving the health of the Chesapeake Bay.

Progress in restoring the Chesapeake Bay also will depend on the support of State and local governments, the enterprise of the private sector, and the stewardship provided to the Chesapeake Bay by all the people who make this region their home.

Follow the link above in the text, or in the headline for this article, to read or download the entire order. Looks as though The Bay may finally see some progress... which is desperately needed!

John L.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Staples Corner Redesign — UPDATE

Tomorrow, April 30, 2009, another of the design study meetings for revamping Staples Corner will take place at Crofton Middle School at 7:00 p.m.*

The Office of Planning and Zoning will present a concept plan to illustrate how the study area might be improved. According to the announcement, the plan will address "streetscape improvements, site redevelopment scenarios, pedestrian and bicycle connections, and landscaping and other features."

Even if you can't show up, you can still address questions and comments to the planners, Michael Fox and Kevin Gambrill, at 410-222-7432.

John L.

*Update: The OPZ team arrived with very nice posters showing their proposed designs, based on input from the community at previous meetings. Many of the suggested improvements seem unlikely anytime soon as they all require funding, either from the state of Maryland which is already short of cash due to the recession or from would-be developers as a condition of permits. In any case, the proposals will be offered as inputs in the consideration of Anne Arundel County's General Development Plan which will be coming before the county council this year.


Saturday, March 28, 2009

Rainy Day Ruse—Updated!

Backyard (or frontyard) "rain gardens" could stop much of the pollution now entering the Chesapeake Bay at its source, according to Chesapeake Ecology Center director Zora Lathan. On Earth Day 2009 (April 22) a consortium of environmental partners will launch their new RainScaping Campaign and new website RainScaping.org.*

On Earth Day, that new website will "go live", but for now you can read all about it at the CEC's page on RainScaping. Basically, the idea is to corral the runoff from yards, streets, roofs, and other hard surfaces and channel it to rain gardens, which are simply low-lying vegetated depressions–generally three to six inches deep–where it can soak into the ground and nourish water-tolerant plants on its way through the natural filter of the plants and soil to recharge groundwater and increase needed base flow in our waterways.

There will be a lot more here on this wonderful "solution to pollution" as the weeks go past. For now, just visit CEC's website and soak it all in. And get ready to plant rain gardens!

John L.

* It's up! Have a look... and try it out in your own yard.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Winter's Last Snow

Snow was still falling on Monday, March 2, when I spotted this silvery scene just up the road from my house. This'll be a happy memory come some 90+ degree day next July!

John L.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Most Bizarre Annual Meeting — Ever!

The meeting came off just as described in my earlier post. But, unlike most annual meetings, we actually had a quorum the first time around (40 warm bodies plus maybe a dozen proxies), thanks to a concerted effort by a few dedicated neighbors to contact people and urge them to show up.

Not sure I want to try to summarize all the often-vigorous discussions that took place, but there were two main themes: (1.) Our board of directors discovered (again thanks to the efforts of a concerned neighbor) that they actually have very little power to force things on their neighbors; and (2.) The community decided to ignore the legal niceties and just proceed as in the past on the basis of goodwill and a general feeling of community. We passed a budget that will suffice to finish the entrance landscaping and pay the basic bills. And then everybody scooted out into the chill winter night.

I do have copies of both the final landscape plan for the entrance and a two-page summary of some legal points distributed by the president at the meeting. I will send you a copy of either or both if you are a Hallmark Woods resident; just email me at: joludwigson (at) verizon (dot) net [email link also in profile on the right].

Wonders will never cease!

John L.

[This post revised and expanded on 31 January 2009.]

Saturday, January 3, 2009

International Year of Astronomy — 2009

    If you've checked out the southwestern sky recently, you know what a treat the universe can offer to those who look up. Now, in 2009, the worldwide astronomical community is hoping to engage everyone in appreciation of  the wonders that surround us.  From the U.S. website:

In the year 2009, the world will celebrate the International Year of Astronomy as it commemorates the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s use of a telescope to study the skies, and Kepler’s publication of Astronomia Nova. 2009 is also the anniversary of many other historic events in science, including Huygen’s 1659 publication of Systema Saturnium.This will be modern astronomy’s quadricentennial, and the 2009 Year of Astronomy will be an international celebration of numerous astronomical and scientific milestones. Events are still being planned, and you are invited to tell us how you want to celebrate. This page is a product of the U.S. 2009 IYA team, and we want to help you make 2009 a year long celebration to remember.

   For good company in visiting the night sky, you might check out the National Capital Astronomers who offer many public programs, some of the armchair variety, and some of the outside-in-the-cold staring through telescopes kind. 

As Jack Horkheimer always says, "Keep on looking up!" 

John L.