Saturday, August 29, 2009

Possible Microburst Hits Area of Bowie

I woke up just before 4:00am Friday morning to the sound of rain pelting the bedroom window and thunder in the distance. The rain became more heavy, and there were some gusts of wind. At one point, the wind became constant, fierce and very loud. I quickly pulled the blinds away from the window, and I couldn't see anything other than a rain soaked window screen. Normally I would see our neighbor's bright outdoor lights. I'm not generally one to hide in the closet during a storm, but I'd never seen anything like this. I said to my wife something like, "my god, I think we need to get the kids and go downstairs!" The power went out, and the wind stopped. We had a period of maybe 15 to 20 seconds where the wind was constant and loud - not like the typical wind gusts where you can hear the wind speed and direction alternate.

I phoned in the power outage using the BG&E automated line to give them quick notice. The computer generated voice said that the outage had already been reported, and I could expect power to be restored by 6:30am. Ha. I know an overly optimistic estimate when I hear one. I went back to sleep.

In the light of day, I could see that the storm left damage.

This is the house next door. This tree snapped about 30 feet up, fell on the roof of the house above one of the bedrooms, and rolled off the house and onto the cars.

This shows where the tree snapped.

This is one of the trees in our backyard.

This is another tree in our back yard. Prior to the storm, this tree was about 80 feet tall. The top 40 feet snapped off and landed nicely in the overgrown area at the rear of our yard.

Here's where the top 40 foot portion landed. How convenient. I knew that this tree was dying, so I'm not surprised that it went.

Here is another tree down in the front yard of a neighbor's house up the street.

A pine tree blocks the road further up our street.

I came across a City of Bowie crew already removing a tree from the road around the corner from our house at 8:00am.

Bowie City Manager David Deutsch said that the damage was restricted to the Whitehall, Chapel Forge and Meadowbrook sections - a cluster of neighborhoods just North of Maryland Route 450.

The four trees that toppled on our street were all blown down in the same direction.

The following characteristics make this event consistent with a wet microburst:
  • Heavy rain
  • Short duration
  • Heavy, straight winds
  • Damage localized to a single area
  • All damage consistent with wind blowing in one direction.

BG&E's estimate kept changing throughout the day. At one point, they indicated that they were receiving a new outage report. The power was finally restored over 16 hours later.

Scheduling Snafu at Bowie High

There was a scheduling snafu at Bowie High School and other Prince George's County high schools this week. 8000 students had missing, incorrect or partial schedules at the start of the school year last Monday. Rather than going to class, students with problem schedules were sent to cafeterias, gymnasiums and auditoriums.

In initial reports, a school administrator said that the problem was mostly due to late registrations and late schedule changes, but parents quickly disputed that assertion. By the end of the week, blame was being placed on SchoolMax, the multi-multi-million dollar scheduling software used by the Prince George's County Public Schools. Reports also surfaced that the problems were known well in advance, and that a good part of the summer was spent testing and patching the problem software.

The number of students without schedules was down to 2000 by Thursday, and the school system is hoping to have schedules to all high school students by Monday.

Without having additional details, one can only speculate about what went wrong. Were users properly trained? Does the software scale well to handle a school system with 41,000 high school students? If a new software version was installed, were contingency plans in place to return to the previous version of the software in the event of a major failure? If a contingency plan was in place, was it flawed? The school system declared an "all hands on deck" this week to address the problem, but why wasn't that done two or three weeks ago? These are the types of questions that anyone managing large scale computer systems consider on a regular basis. I'm interested in hearing more details about what happened in the months leading up to the first day of school.

I quick Internet seach of SchoolMax problems reveals the following:

  • A Washington Post article from March, 2009 covering the scheduling, grading and other SchoolMax problems experienced by the Prince George's County Schools.
  • A Facebook group started in 2008 with 4100+ members called "SCHOOLMAX SUCKS!!!! AND I HATE IT!!!!"

Monday, August 24, 2009

Former Belair Mobil Gas Station to Close

Former Bowie City Councilman, Dick Arnold, opened Belair Mobil at the corner of Stonybrook Drive and Annapolis Road in 1982. In recent years, the station became affiliated with Sunoco. After 27 years in operation, the station will close in December. The lot will be cleared to make way for a PNC Bank branch. Looks like I'll need to find a new place to fill up.

Sunday, August 23, 2009


We saw several signs like this while driving in North Carolina on the way to the Outer Banks, but we had no idea what they meant.

Apparently the Navy wants to build an outlying landing field (OLF), and two of the five possible sites are located in northeastern North Carolina.

According to the Citizens Against OLF web site:
An OLF is a concrete landing strip where (a) repetitive flight operations
are conducted by military pilots, (b) aircraft carrier touch-and-go practice by
F/A-18 E/F (Super Hornet) aircraft occurs, and (c) constant low-level flying at
the airstrip and surrounding area will regularly take place.

The organization is primarily concerned about the effect on the environment in an area that is rich with wildlife, and they have been successful in getting the state of North Carolina to enact legislation that will make it more difficult but not impossible for the Navy to build an OLF in that area of North Carolina. Interestingly enough, the state would like the Navy to build an OLF further south near Cherry Point Marine Corps Air Station, and the legislation allows for that. Cherry Point, however, is not on the Navy's short list.

Jockeys Ridge

As a first time visitor to the Outer Banks in North Carolina, I had never heard of Jockeys Ridge State Park. The park is located in Nags Head, and it contains sand dunes that vary in height from 80 to 100 feet. The sand makes it look like a desert.

People climb a sand dune to run, roll or ride a boogie board to the bottom.

The park includes a hang gliding school. The wind was strong during my time there.

Get out of the water, kid! Pools of water in the park help support sensitive wildlife.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Vacation Low-Lights

In celebration of my in-laws' anniversary, twelve people took their family dysfunction from Maryland to the Outer Banks of North Carolina this past week for a vacation. There are plenty of posts in the blogsphere that cover vacation highlights. For a change, I want to tell you about the parts of the vacation that didn't go so well. The stories start the week before the vacation.

Wednesday (week before)

My daughter comes down with a bad cough. The doctor says it's a mild case of bronchitis, and she starts meds.

I happen to notice the front tires on the mini-van are nearly bald. It won't be safe to make the 300 mile drive with these tires. We'll have to get a new set before Saturday's trip.

Friday (week before)

My daughter's cough still isn't better. We decide to delay our trip to North Carolina by one day to give her an extra day of rest.

Sunday (the drive down)

We stop for lunch on the way at Diggers Diner (see related post). The food is brought to our table an hour after we order it.


We wake up to discover that someone has been in our hot-tub overnight, and we're missing two nice beach towels. Our troubles seem minor when we later learn that during the same night vandals pooped in the pool and outdoor shower next door.


Three of us go out in my brother in-law's boat for a fishing trip. We enter the water in Roanoke Sound. Wind and rough waters keep us from heading toward the ocean, and the boat's motor keeps stalling. While in the act of performing a practical joke, my long time fisherman brother in-law gets a fishing hook caught in his finger. We don't have any luck pulling it out. He seeks treatment at a local hospital. We're told that we were lucky that we weren't successful in our attempts to remove it because it was stuck in a tendon, and we could have caused nerve damage. He was the second patient of the day requiring fishing hook removal services.


The whole clan goes out to dinner. The waitress spills a glass of wine down my wife's back.


In his haste to park the boat and seek help for the hook in his finger on Wednesday, my brother in-law parked his van so that his rear wheels were in the sand instead of on the driveway. He calls a tow truck to pull out his van before his drive home.

The effects of hurricane Bill are felt on the Outer Banks. The kids can't go swimming at the beach.

This video shows the rough waters.


Lots of traffic for the drive home.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Outer Banks Sunrise Pics

We decided to watch the sunrise from the beach on our first morning this week in the Outer Banks, North Carolina.

My son was wiped out after getting up so early, so we hung back at the house while everyone else went to the beach. While he slept on the couch, I discovered that there is still a sub-culture that watches the Price is Right. I'm guessing that these same people that are guessing the price of room deodorizers by day are protesting health care reform by night.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Redneck Clause

A bunch of us went to see a monster truck rally at the Verizon Center last January - five dads and six boys. At some point during the day, we had a discussion about whether or not we were rednecks for going to the show. The group consensus turned out to be what I refer to as the redneck clause - as long as we were taking our kids because they were interested, we aren't rednecks.

The clause came into play again last weekend during our family trip to the Outer Banks in North Carolina. We were 30 miles from from our destination when we decided to stop for lunch. We stopped at the first place we saw - Diggers Diner. The diner is part of a small tourist trap associated with monster truck Grave Digger and driver, Dennis Anderson. Several monster trucks are on display, and $5 buys you a monster truck ride. Grave Diggers Racing Shop is also on the property - a truck repair shop and gift shop.

The food was good, but the place was so busy that it took us about an hour to get our food.

I wonder how long they've been open "daliy."

It has a traditional diner look.

Racing themed bathrooms with a checkered floor and a tool chest to hold extra supplies.

One of the retired Grave Diggers.

A reminder that we're in the South.

The outside of the shop.

Monster trucks in the shop.

We couldn't leave without taking my son for a monster truck ride.

A racing fan's car in the parking lot.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Chia Pet Circus Arrives in Bowie

Pink flamingos. Pinwheels. Plastic deer. Madonna statues. Gnomes. I've seen my fair share of lawn ornaments, but this is the only five foot tall "chia" elephant that I've ever seen. I saw this elephant while driving on Route 564 near Old Bowie.

Unfortunately, this guy has lost his chia coat, but luckily he's been fitted with his very own sprinkler system.
I just have one question. Why?

Race Track Road to get New Traffic Light

It looks like Race Track Road is getting a new traffic light at the intersections with Idlewild Drive and Marquette Lane. This section of road seems to attract fast and aggressive drivers, and I can't imagine it's very easy to exit these neighborhoods onto Race Track Road. It's also not always easy exiting from Hilltop Plaza onto Race Track Road in either direction. I'm looking forward to having these lights activated.

Summer Vacation Ending in Bowie

I noticed Thursday morning that county school buses were performing their practice runs. Only one week of summer vacation left before school starts!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Modern Day Message in a Bottle

As a kid, I always wanted to put a message in a bottle and throw it in the ocean for someone in a faraway land to discover. I thought it would be cool to see where and how far it traveled. Since I didn't live near the ocean, I had to come up with a plan B.

Plan B was put into action when I came home from the local county fair with a helium balloon. I attached a self-addressed postcard and a string to the balloon, but the postcard was too heavy. I ended up making a light weight postcard out of thin typing paper. I added labels to the postcard for the recipient to fill in their name, age, address and the location where they found the balloon, and I wrapped it with plastic wrap to keep the paper dry. I had to trim the size of the postcard a few times before it seemed air worthy, and then I finally let it go.

The postcard arrive in the mail about a week later. A thirteen year old girl in a nearby town found the balloon. My father estimated that the faraway lands that I dreamed of were in fact about seven miles away.

About thirty years later, I noticed that I had a dollar bill with a web address stamped in a couple of places on the bill:

The Where's George? site allows you to register bills using the series and serial numbers, and you will receive e-mail notifications when anyone else registers any of the same bills that you registered. Each e-mail includes a link to a page on the site that shows you the registration log for the bill, the distance traveled and a map showing the path that the bill took based on the log entries.

I always log any bills that I find stamped with the address, and I have occasionally written the address on a bill.

Below are some screen shots showing logs of bills that someone registered after I had. One made it all the way from Martinsburg, WV to D.C. by way of Bowie. The other made it from Bowie to Bristol, NH in eleven months.

Martinsburg, WV to D.C. via Bowie

Bowie to Bristol, NH in 11 months

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Fine Shopping Returns to Bowie for Halloween

The Spirit Halloween store is returning to the former Giant space in Bowie Plaza this fall. Ample supplies of overpriced plastic eyeballs, bloody hands, giant spiders and twitching rats will be available.

New this year is the Mr. Ponzi Mask so that you too can trick your friends into thinking that you are are the $62.5 billion swindler, Bernie Madoff.

If you are in search of something more traditional, you can try the Mud Flap Mullet Wig and Mustache or the Friday the 13th Deluxe Jason Mask.

You can also help the store with their overstocked items by purchasing a John Kerry Mask. Apparently Halloween Spirit misread the polls in Ohio too, and they failed to understand the consequences of long lines at polling stations in Cleveland.

To avoid the appearance of Halloween-as-usual, the Sarah Palin mask has been retired this year rather than pushing lame and ineffective costumes on the American public.

The Dick Cheney Mask is also being retired this year, and the speculation is that it will be replaced with a Liz Cheney mask in the not so distant future.

Rumor has it that Halloween Spirit will donate $1 to the State of California for each Governator Mask sold, but representatives could not be reached by blog post time.

The George W. Bush Mask is still available, and we are being told by a select few people that history will reveal that this is the greatest Halloween mask of all time.

New this year is a Mark Sanford Mask, although Halloween Spirit does not currently know the whereabouts of these masks. If the masks are found, they may be sold in a set with either the Immortal Mistress costume or the Church Lady costume. Stay tuned.

When this Halloween madness is over, I hope that a grocery store will once again occupy this space in Bowie Plaza. A Gazette article from last year indicates that Giant was still holding the lease in February, 2008, and I heard rumors that Giant was willing to sub-lease to anyone except for a competing grocery store. A memo on the City of Bowie web site from City Manager David Deutsch shows an interest on the part of the City to bring a grocery store back to Bowie Plaza.

Chinese Food Survey Results

The WTOP survey of the best Chinese restaurants in the area wrapped up yesterday. Bowie's Grace's Fortune ended up 5th on the list. Click here for an overview of the restaurants in the survey.
The final results were much different from Wednesday's tally. P.F. Chang's went from first to last, and Meiwah went from 7th place to first.

I think that this was really more of a familiarity contest than a "best of" contest, but I imagine all of the places on the final list have pretty good food.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

It's Time to Right a Wrong - Do Your Part

Do people really think that the food at P.F. Chang's is better than the food at Bowie's Grace's Fortune? WTOP is currently conducting a survey to determine where the best Chinese food can be found in the D.C. area. Voting ends early Friday, and here are the results so far.

I think this is more of a popularity contest than a true food comparison test. Click here to vote. I pulled the lever for the hometown team.

I suppose that someone can make that argument that none of the food served at these places is "real" Chinese food.

This reminds me of a quote from Season 1 of the Amazing Race. Fraternity brothers Kevin and Drew were in China. I think it was Drew that was being interviewed, and he said, "we're taking a break to have a little Chinese food - or as they call it here in China, 'food'." That always gives me a laugh. I guess I'm sort of simple that way.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

The Belair Drive Blogger Goes Mobile

Last month I posted about a guy that displays his own "public service announcements" from an easel is his front yard, and I dubbed him the Belair Drive Blogger. He now posts driving tips from the back window of his truck.

If you can't read the picture, the signs say...

HEY LoSEr... R your SignaLs BroKE? NEED to woof DN that Big Mac
or taLk ON you CELL!



I caN aLso ExpLaiN to you what STOP MEANS...A CLUE: STOP!

Geez, I bet this guy is a lot of fun at parties.