Monday, December 13, 2010

A New News Source for Laurel

Laurel Patch, an online local news source is now available on the web at  AOL’s hyper-local news network called "Patch" now has over 500 community web sites.  Laurel's Patch is one of the latest to go live today. 

“Yes, you read that right: 500 different websites, all with the same look and general feel, but each one staffed by an editor devoted to writing about the people and businesses in that community,” writes Bizjournals.  AOL is planning on investing over $50 million on the Patch Network in an attempt to capitalize on the dearth of local news web sites.

We have two local newspapers in town.  Well, we really only have one, the Laurel Leader.  The Gazette quietly shuttered their Laurel operation earlier this year and clumps Laurel's news in with Beltsville, College Park and other communities in the northern part of the county.  And let me be honest, the Gazette really never committed the resources necessary to serve our community well.

Editor Melanie Dzwonchyk and her plucky band of journos at the venerable Laurel Leader cover our fair city quite well.  Unfortunately, they are saddled with a web site from their publisher that is so lame and old fashioned, it looks like something invented by the late Senator Ted Stevens.  In spite of her lame web site, Dzwonchyk has been posting breaking news online and on Twitter. 

So now we have another online local news source in Laurel.  A source with a modern web site, a commitment to getting the story online regardless of the day of the week, and with access to AOL's deep pockets.

Let the competition begin. 

Saturday, November 27, 2010

National Zoo

The Smithsonian's National Zoo is only 40 minutes away from Laurel but I often forget just how much fun it can be.  I spent a couple of hours at the zoo this afternoon.  It was cold but the sun was shining and the cats were active.  I should have brought along my tripod.  My big 300 mm lens was hard to hold steady in the wind.

"Scared yet kid?" 
A few more shots are over on my Flickr page here.  Take a break from leftovers and go to the zoo.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Inducing Emotions

Induced Emotion, Re: PANIC
A woman from my hometown of Youngstown, Ohio, was arrested for "inducing panic" at a local drugstore.
It seems that she became frustrated waiting for a clerk to ring her out.  So she screamed that the store was being robbed.  Her screams quickly brought a clerk to the checkout.  However, after the store crew realized her ruse, they called the law.  They had the impatient woman arrested for "inducing panic."

This story has made me wonder about all of the other possible crimes of inducing emotion.  Can I have my mother arrested for inducing guilt? Should my robo-calling elected official be arrested for inducing anger?   Should Max at Pasta Plus be arrested for providing such a great meal that he induces  gluttony and then lethargy?  And what about other small town bloggers, who are so much better chroniclers of local stories that they induce my envy?  

I say, "away with them all."  Anyone who causes such strong involuntary emotions should have to do at least a few days in the Laurel city jail, or some community service to help them kick their inducing habit.  

I will be waiting on my porch for Laurel's lawmen to book me for inducing boredom.  You may be called to testify.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Had Enough Robocalls Yet?

I've had it with the candidate robocalls this election season.  I must get six calls a day.  Do the candidates really think that a robocall is going to make me vote for them?  They must have a pretty low opinion of us if they think a few dozen robocalls will change our minds.

"Gee, what a nice guy, I'll be sure to vote for that candidate."

So I've decided to fight back.  Click here for the robocall that I'm sending out to every candidate this season.  I'm fighting robocalls with my own robocalls.  This link goes to an mp3 file located here.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

You want to join what?

I'm sure every parent feels the same way when their child decides to grow up and make their own decisions.  A year ago, my youngest child decided he wanted to join the the few and the proud.

I didn't know what to say. He seemed too young, too immature, not ready for this challenge.  I wanted him to wait.  But I knew that it was his decision.

PFC Steven Wilson, USMC, graduated from boot camp at Parris Island, SC in early March.  He then completed combat training at Camp Lejune, NC and he is now attending technical school at Pensacola Naval Air Station, FL.

The corps took away my immature teenager and sent back a confident and capable young man.

I'm pretty sure he now knows at least a dozen ways to knock me out.  But I'll never let him forget that he can't beat his old man.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Rebuilding Main Street With a New Library

Should a new library be built downtown?  I believe it should.  A new library near Main Street will bring more people to Main Street, providing a solid anchor for increasing retail sales in our shopping district.  I also believe that a new library would become the foundation to revitalize downtown while enhancing recreational and cultural opportunities along Riverfront Park.

Building a new library near Main Street will also require unusual cooperation and collaboration from both our county and city governments.  Before I explain, let me summarize the situation.
  • Prince George's County wants to rebuild the Laurel Library at its current location at Seventh and Talbot.
  • However, the current location has challenges.  The property is not large enough to support a new building along with all the necessary parking spaces.
  • The county would need to acquire additional land from the city to support the new building project.
  • The need for a larger parcel opens up the opportunity to consider other building locations.  
  • The City of Laurel has the old Police Station property at 350 Municipal Square.  It's one block off  Main Street and right along the river. The city would like to sell this 1.8 acre property and 19,000 square foot building for 2.5 million dollars.
"Bring Our Library Downtown," or BOLD, is a grassroots group advocating for building the new library downtown at the old Police Station location.  They have a slide show highlighting many of the benefits of moving the library downtown.

I agree with BOLD but I would like to go a bit further and suggest that the city simply give, not sell, the old Police Station property to the county for the new library.  The city has the most to gain from moving the library downtown.  While 2.5 million dollars is a lot of money that could be used for many other city projects, I believe that this is a small price to pay to help revitalize Main Street. 

This 2.5 million dollar gift should come with three conditions.  First, that the city and county would jointly appoint a dedicated planning commission to design the building and grounds of the new library.  Second, the city would get final approval of the county's site and building plan.  Third, the county would agree to buy the property on the northwest corner that sits between the old Police Station and the river, highlighted in red below.

By removing all of the existing buildings on the site, we will have a large parcel that opens north to the river.  With an open lot, we can build a large, innovative library and learning center that fully incorporates both the river and adjacent park land into its design.  This approach also opens options for increased parking for Main Street visitors.

This is obviously an aggressive plan.  It will cost both the city and county significant resources, not just money, but also time and attention.  The city has a long history of augmenting county services with city tax dollars.  For example, the city has contributed over $250,000 per year towards the county's fire and ambulance services.  I think it is entirely reasonable for the city to contribute funding that will lead directly to augmenting Main Street's revitalization.

This plan also requires that both county and city governments to work together on the project in good faith and for the benefit of all.  It will be difficult because governments rarely share the same priorities or have business and planning processes that are compatible.  But the enhanced library and learning center that could result from this cooperation will be so much better than what either government could possible accomplish alone.

Please see the sidebar to take our poll, "Should the Laurel Library Move Downtown?"

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Good Morning Laurel

Wow, it has been quite awhile since I last posted on this far corner of the internets. There has been a lot going on and I really didn't have anything useful to say.  So I've been laying low and saving my rapidly diminishing brain cycles for other pursuits like counting campaign signs on Route 1.

Back at Easter time, a couple of doctors said that I needed to have a little heart plumbing done.  My advice to everyone is to try to avoid this kind of plumbing job.  It's messy, shockingly expensive and  personally disruptive for much longer than you might originally be led to believe. In these regards, I guess heart plumbing is like any other plumbing project.  You are happy to have had it done until you learn that now you must be even more careful about the bad stuff you can't throw down your new pipes.

I have a new diet and exercise regime.  Well actually, she-who-must-be-obeyed, put fresh batteries in her taser to motivate my daily exercise sessions.  She also uses that same taser to enforce her award-winning diet plan, "if it tastes good, spit it out."  I've become the "biggest loser" on so many levels ...

And since we've now entered the mass hypnosis period that we call our local political campaign season, I thought I would freshen the blog with a little redesign and jump back into the blogging fray.  We have so many interesting local issues to consider. 

Good Morning!

* The Laurel Lake sunrise picture above was taken on 27 June 2010 from Oxford Drive.  I took it quickly before Joanne could turn on her taser.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Bureaucracies are built one monkey at a time

I have lived for most of the previous 35 years within one huge bureaucracy or another.  Living in a big institution changes a man.  It takes away his ability to see the world as a normal person would. 

As Morgan Freeman explained so well in the film, Shawshank Redemption, 

"These walls are funny. First you hate 'em, then you get used to 'em. Enough time passes, you get so you depend on them. That's institutionalized."

Last week I heard a great story about how bureaucratic institutions create such strong and usually intractable cultures.   Institutions where the inmates seem to do the same things over and over, in spite of logic or changing environments.  I'm not sure if the story is true, but it's too good not to share.

A psychologist set up an experiment with five monkeys in a large cage.   Inside the cage, he hung a banana on a string and placed a set of stairs under it. 

Before long, one of the monkeys would go to the stairs and start to climb towards the banana. As soon as he touched the stairs, the psychologist would spray all of the other monkeys with very cold water.   Monkeys hate cold water and they would howl.

After a while, another monkey would brave an attempt, but would likewise meet with the same result - that all of the other monkeys would be sprayed with cold water. 

Monkeys are smart and they soon figured out that if any monkey went for a banana ... they would get a cold shower.  Therefore, when any monkey tried to climb the stairs, the other monkeys would beat the hell of him to prevent him from getting them all sprayed.

Then the psychologist put away the cold water and removed one monkey from the cage.  He replaced the original monkey with a brand new one.   

Of course, the new monkey saw the banana and started to climb the stairs. However, to his surprise and horror, all of the other monkeys attacked him.  After another attempt and attack, he quickly learned that if he tries to climb the stairs, he will be assaulted by the others. 

Next, the psychologist removed another from the original set of five monkeys and replaced it with a new, unconditioned monkey. The newcomer goes to the stairs and is immediately attacked. 

The amazing thing is that even the previous newcomer takes part in the punishment with enthusiasm! Likewise, the psychologist replaced a third original monkey with a new one, then a fourth, then the fifth. Every time the newest monkey takes to the stairs, he is attacked by the existing monkeys.

Now we have a situation where the monkeys that are beating the newcomer have no idea why they were not permitted to climb the stairs or why they are participating in the beating of the newest monkey. 

After replacing all the original monkeys, none of the remaining monkeys have ever been sprayed with cold water. Nevertheless, no monkey ever again approaches the stairs to try for the banana. Why not? Because as far as they know that's the way it's always been done around here. 

And that's how bureaucratic institutions are forged ... one beaten monkey at a time. 

Monday, March 01, 2010

Where to Buy the Best Sandwich in Laurel?

A good sandwich is hard to find.  A great sandwich is the world's best comfort food.  It cures what ails you.  A sandwich can take you back to your youth.  Or remind you of sharing a special sandwich on your first date.  Your circumstances may be different but all of us have strong food memories.

This brings us to today's Laurel Connection's poll.

Where do you buy your absolute favorite sandwich in Laurel?

Here are the sandwich shootout guidelines:
  1. Tell us where to buy it - Unless you want a bunch of hungry people camped outside your grandmother's house demanding a grilled cheese with tomato and bacon...your favorite sandwich must be available from a commercial food establishment near Laurel.
  2. Tell us how to buy it - Be specific.  Tell us about your sandwich in loving detail.  Help us to really taste it.  Write it like you would see it on the menu or as described in a food column. Help us to order it and fix it just like you eat it.  For example, "A steak sub on a lightly toasted Italian hoagie roll with grilled onions and two slices of smokey provolone cheese, gobs of real mayo, lots of dill pickles, shredded crisp romaine and  a generous helping of hot pepper relish."
  3. The source of your sandwich should be in general vicinity of Laurel.  We can be a bit flexible, but make sure it's within 10 miles or so.  Nobody wants to drive too far for comfort food.
  4. Last but not least, tell us why the sandwich is so special you?  When did you have it the first time?  First date?  First time driving the family car alone after you got your driver's license? After a big game or a big promotion?  A sandwich you ate late at night after the birth of your first child?
That's it. You can share your favorite sandwich in the comments section below or simply click here.  Or send it to me via email (g dot rick dot wilson at gmail dot com).  And I'll add it to the Laurel Sandwich Shootout Menu for you.

Thanks for sharing,   rick

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Sunday Morning in Laurel - Winter or Spring?

Cody and I woke early today. We made a trip for Cody's "hurry-up" and it felt surprisingly warm outside.  The air was still and the temperture just a smidge above freezing.  It smelled damp.

The street light committee on our block seemed unsure if it was really morning.  Two streetlights had already turned off but a third holdout remained on, waiting for more evidence of morning.  Perhaps the holdout was simply hoping to collect a bit of overtime for BG&E before spring's longer days arrive and reduce profits.

This is a fitting dilemma for Cody and me to ponder at the end of February.  Is it spring or winter?  Night or day?  Will we have a few more weeks of cold and snow?  Or will Joanne's spring flower bulbs soon announce springtime?  We can't be sure.

Time for us to go back inside for coffee and wait for more evidence.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Kojo Nnamdi: Blogging The Blizzard

Laurel Connections was part of a panel of three community bloggers today on Kojo Nnamdi's show on WAMU - 88.5 FM.   

A Podcast of the show should be available soon.

My goal on the show was to explain how web 2.0 tools can help us grow closer together as a community.   

The snow storm provided an excellent example of how our local government, our local newspaper and our community collaborated using web sites, blogs, photo sharing sites, listservs and old fashioned can-do spirit to keep each other informed and safe.

Increasing social capital and social cohesion via web 2.0 tools is an answer to Robert Putnam's challenge in "Bowling Alone."  I believe it's one of the ways that we will recreate stronger communities in the Internet Age.  
Major media cover national news with thousands of reporters.  Big city newspapers and electronic media cover metro stories with a few dozen reporters.  However, not everything that is most important to our lives happens on Capital Hill or in the West Wing.

In a crisis, the most important thing to know might be what is happening right now on the next block.  Major newspapers, TV and radio stations cannot cover our neighborhood.  Web 2.0 tools like blogs, Twitter, listservs and Facebook give us the tools we need to inform ourselves.  Information we need to stay safe, stay warm and to help one another.  Web 2.0 tools support  our first ammendment freedom in its purest form.  

Blogs and listservs will never replace great community newspapers like the Laurel Leader.   However local blogs and community newspapers can cooperate and serve the community better than either could alone.

Sometimes knowing where to borrow a shovel when your car is snowed under, or who has a warm cup of coffee when your power is out can be the most important thing in the world.

Photowalk Wednesday Night

Here's a new slideshow.  I took a cold walk around town Wednesday night. 

The only things moving around Laurel were plows and my chattering lips.  

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Kudos Laurel Leader

Laurel Leader's Editor, Melanie Dzwonchyk, has continued her unflagging support of digital publishing to keep us informed during the storm.  Melanie has heroically filed online stories during the teeth of the storm proving that local journalism doesn’t need ink and paper to serve our community. 

The Leader has published early and online this week.  You can read the Leader’s latest snow story here.  Kudos to Melanie and her team at the Leader.

It's too bad the Leader’s publishers refuse to create a professional website for our much beloved Laurel Leader.  We are left with their absolutely horrible “explore howard dot com” website.  

The fact that the “explore howard dot com” loses the brand identity provided by the Laurel Leader is sad enough.  However, the technology that their site runs on must have been first deployed by Gutenberg himself.   There seems to be simply no commitment to digital publishing by this publisher. It appears to be only an afterthought and is certainly not being worked as an emerging profit center.

I understand that community newspapers are losing money.  But it's a damn shame that the people running Patuxent Publishing do not embrace the web and dedicate their time and energies to improving their digital editions.  If there is any way to stop hemorrhaging money, the tourniquet must be built from their digital product.

Community news is vitally important to every small town in America.  I have dozens of sources for national news.  There are thousands of reporters in DC covering the federal government.  But on a good day, we only have a precious few reporters like Gwendolyn Glenn and Melanie Dzwonchyk to tell us what is happening in our own back yard.  

Come on Patuxent Publishing please give us a real community news website for the Laurel Leader.  A website that lives at and a website that carries a local brand and logo that we can identify with. 

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

The Calm Between the Storms

Cody and I are taking a break today.  Here we are at the Laurel Connections Crisis Operations Center, i.e., the LCCOC.  We are getting a bit of much needed rest between these historic and breathless snow storms.

Dogs and bloggers both need their rest after five days of tweeting, face booking, TV watching, emailing, non-stop eating, web surfing, aimless walking, photographing, general and specific malingering and the occasional nip of medicinal hooch.

Cody is keeping watch for she-who-must-be-obeyed (SWMBO).  If we sleep too soundly, SWMBO gets all excited and assumes that we kicked the bucket.  Cody's job is to make sure SWMBO doesn't haul us outside for special pick-up.  The DPW guys are much too busy clearing the streets to drag our large carcass away to the landfill.

We've also been adding new pictures to our LCCOC storm-of-the-century slide show.   

On an serious note, Council President Gayle Snyder emailed us this morning saying that Richard Kluckhuhn is concerned that his famous Christmas Tree may have been severely damaged by the February 6 storm. The Kluckhuhn family has brightened Laurel's Christmases for at least two generations with the lighted tree.  This picture shows some of the damage.  Let's hope that the tree can be saved for future generations.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Oh No ... More Snow!

Issued by The National Weather Service
Baltimore/Washington, MD
3:04 pm EST, Mon., Feb. 8, 2010





Saturday, February 06, 2010

A few more pictures as the storm abates

Eric and I walked around this evening as the sun was setting.  Blue skies emerged for the briefest moment.

Tastee Diner and another business on Main street lost their window awnings to the snow.  Impressive drifts were found on roofs all over town.  

Tomorrow we start the big dig.

Slide show is found here.

UPDATE: Laurel Leader posts a snowstorm story.

Snow Stories

I took a walk around town this morning.  Here is the slide show with pictures  including last night's and this morning's shots.

I had a chance to talk to Laurel's Mayor, Craig Moe.  Hizzoner is out plowing in a small city truck.  He does a pretty good job, talking on the radio and clearing the LVFD station driveway at the same time.  Craig explained that the county will plow station 10, but that in a storm like this, everybody needs to step up to help.  He said it's important that the fire trucks and ambulance can get out of the station.

Marty Flemion and his team of senior staff members are at the City's Emergency Management Operations Center directing the city's response. Council President Gayle Snyder has been volunteering since early this morning answering phones at city hall.  Ed Ricks, a long-time city volunteer and former council member, has been up all night cooking for the city crews.  You may have seen Eddie and his helpers in the city's emergency canteen vehicle in the past.  Everybody in town is hard at work.

The city has been at work for a few days getting ready for this historic storm.  Every resource that the city has available is now engaged in the battle.  Crews are working around the clock.  The mayor told me that his first priority is responding to the storm and protecting the residents.  He and the city council will work together to find the money to pay for whatever we need to respond to this storm.  He said that is why we set aside financial reserves.

The biggest worry now is the loss of electricity.  According to the mayor, we have had a few limited outages.  But as the storm progresses and the wind increases, he is concerned that we may lose more trees.  Trees rip out the electric wires. 

Be sure to call BG&E if you lose power.  That is the only way they will know that your power is out.

Laurel is a unique place with so many wonderful people.  Jim McCeney has been clearing his neighbor's walks with his snow blower all morning.  I just heard that Jim's snow blower may have died before he cleared his own driveway.  City staff are working around the clock.  Neighbors are helping neighbors.  We are truly blessed.

Stay inside.  Stay out of your car.  Stay in touch.  Stay warm.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Oldtown Is Quiet

Joanne, puppy named Cody, Marybeth, and I took a short walk at about 9pm.  It was about 28 degrees F. and snowing heavily as you can see.  Marybeth, aka number 1 daughter, measured about 6 inches of snow.  

The streets are very quiet.  A few cars and plenty of plows.  Laurel's snow emergency streets have already been plowed at least twice.  Laurel avenue has also seen a plow at least once.  DPW valiantly keeping up so far.

Quick slideshow here.

History Books May Be Rewritten

The National Weather Service in Sterling, Va. has issued the following statement:





Top Ten Snowstorms for DC

From the washpost - Here are the top 10 snowstorms on record for Washington, D.C.:

1. January 27-28, 1922 ... 28 inches
2. February 11-13, 1899 ... 20.5 inches
3. February 18-19, 1979 ... 18.7 inches
4. January 6-8, 1996 ... 17.1 inches
5. February 15-18, 2003 ... 16.7 inches
6. February 11-12, 1983 ...16.6 inches
7. December 19-20, 2009 ... 16.4 inches (Snowpocalypse)
8. February 15-16, 1958 ... 14.4 inches
9. February 7, 1936 ... 14.4 inches
10. February 16-18, 1900 ... 14.3 inches

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Laurel MD Snow Totals via Twitter

We are going to be tracking snowfall in the Laurel region via Twitter.  Just include #laurelsnow in your tweet.

To follow all of the measurements just go here: and search for #laurelsnow

Or if your firewall blocks twitter, I've added a twitter widget to the Laurel Connections blog.   

Here is a tutorial for measuring snow


This is an alert from the City of Laurel Emergency Operations Department.
Mayor Craig Moe has declared a snow emergency for February 5, 2010 effective 10:00am due to the predicted inclement weather that will hit the Laurel area.

If you live on a snow emergency route, please be aware that parking is not allowed on the even addressed side of the street. If your vehicle is found parked illegally on a snow emergency route, the police department will attempt to identify and locate the vehicle’s owner to remove it. However, if the vehicle’s owner cannot be found, the vehicle will be ticketed and possibly towed. If you find that your car has been towed, contact the Laurel Police Department at their non-emergency phone number at 301-498-0092. Please be aware if your car is towed, a parking violation will be issued for which the vehicle’s owner will be responsible. Additionally, if your vehicle is impounded, a fee for storage will be assessed to the owner which will have to be paid prior to the release of the vehicle.

Additionally, please follow the City ordinance that after the cessation of snowfall, all public sidewalks around your property must be shoveled within 12 hours or you will be cited. However, it is recommended that you also clear the walkways on your property in case emergency assistance is needed at your home. And when clearing off your cars, driveways and sidewalks do not throw the snow into the street.  This is a violation of City Code as this will create hazards for motorists and more problems for Public Works when they are clearing the streets.

The City of Laurel Emergency Operations Department is asking homeowners and residents to also please check that their downspouts, drains and sump pump discharges are free of snow to allow for proper drainage operations as well as check that fire hydrants are cleared of snow in case emergency personnel need to gain access. Due to the amount of snowfall that is being called for, you are urged to stay off the streets and stay home so that the Public Works vehicles can do their jobs sufficiently. If you do find yourself out on the roadways during the storm, please be reminded that if traffic signals are out or not visible due to snow, you must treat the intersection as a 4 way stop.

Finally, the Emergency Operations Department is asking that because of the cold temperatures that will be in place for this snow event, please check on neighbors, especially any elderly neighbors, to ensure that they are warm and safe. For more information regarding snow removal, please call the Department of Public Works at 301-725-0088. If during the storm you need emergency service, Fire and EMS can be reached by calling 911 and the Laurel Police can be reached by calling 301-725-3000 for emergency needs.

If you have any other questions that the City of Laurel can answer, we plan (subject to change dependent on weather conditions) on having City Hall front desk manned and you can call at 301-725-5300. Thank you.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Totally Useless Fact

Bloomberg reports $192 million dollars worth of hummus was sold last year in the U.S, "according to PepsiCo Inc., the world's biggest snack maker." That's a whole lot of hummus among us.