Thursday, June 26, 2008

Virginia Transportation: Our 2 cents - we want it back!

This week's special session for Virginia's legislative bodies in Richmond regarding transportation appears, appears utterly abysmal, deadlocked, useless, etc. - according to most reports on the subject. Furthermore, reports from sources like the Washington Post indicate "some legislators have already dismissed the session".

This will be short, simple, necessarily politically ignorant. We're getting peeved, sitting in hideous traffic trying to get downtown to jobs that protect America.

Evidently the cost of the session is $20,000 a day, to Virginia taxpayers. Using very rough and probably ill-informed math, that amounts to 2 cents from each tax-paying citizen.

We want it back.

Being so bold as to represent all clear-thinking, traffic-hating, non-partisan residents of the Dulles South area of Northern Virginia, we demand the following from our legislators - in fact, we as constituents DIRECT you to execute the following:

1 - go home, reconstitute, have a beer, and get plans together for the next session, keeping in mind the following points.
2 - give us our 2 cents back. We're out of gas.
3 - take your party badges off; start thinking like professionals.
4 - come back to the next session rested, refreshed and ready to work really hard to keep your jobs - we're ready to vote you and your cronies out the door so fast your heads will spin (listen up! the Internet is talking to you - it's not happy, and has a big stick).
5 - consider and immediately accept all reasonable bills that direct methodical, practical cost-savings measures, that seek to raise transportation revenues via non-tax activities - such as those from one of our locals, Bob Marshall.
6 - pass a bit of a tax, on everyone - frankly, with our gas costs (basically broad-based consumer use taxes in themselves) having risen two dollars a gallon over a very short period, a few more cents really doesn't disturb us - if it did, we've got much bigger problems. It may be NOVA and Hampton Roads who've got the biggest problems, but the entire State, all businesses and all citizens benefit from better traffic conditions.
7 - try again on the special tax-raising initiatives for NOVA; ask us, we'll help.
8 - go home, and maybe we'll invite you back to our barbecue, noting your accomplishments.

Dulles South, Northern Virginia


Saturday, June 21, 2008

Loudoun Insurance Press Release

Here's great news from a reputable, local provider of Loudoun Insurance products, in our very own South Riding, VA.

Khalid Umerani of Chantilly (Fairfax County and Loudoun County Insurance) has been recognized by Allstate Insurance Company for high standards in customer satisfaction, customer retention and financial service sales. Umerani has achieved the distinctive Allstate Regional Champion's award, which is Allstate's symbol of outstanding achievement.

Full details and more information about this press release can be found at Dulles South Online - Loudoun Insurance.

NOVA Insurance Group offers a lot of really good, timely Loudoun insurance news and information for area residents in Loudoun, Fairfax and elsewhere about life events, insurance needs and other topics very relevant to our families, homes, businesses and communities - regardless of whether you're in the market for insurance or not.

For example - those gearing up on this first day of Summer for motorcycle activities - be sure to check out this great recent post concerning Loudoun motorcycle insurance!



Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Dulles South and Loudoun Transportation Information

Take a look at the most recent Dulles South Traffic and Transportation presentations given at the Dulles South Business Alliance (DSBA), concerning transportation planning, funding and activities in the area. Presentations include one on the "Dulles Loop Implementation Group" (DLIG) status, one from the "Northern Virginia Transportation Authority" (NVTA), and one on the "Washington Airports Task Force" (WATF) 2008 priorities.

All provide a reasonable picture of real progress being made towards alleviating traffic issues in this area of the county, though there are many years of planning and construction to go. Lots of interesting nuggets.


Friday, June 13, 2008

Loudoun Extra - Welcome to the Neighborhood

A very interesting and well-debated story popped up at the Wall Street Journal last week, concerning the "Flop" (as they called it) of the Washington Post's foray into hyperlocal journalism, i.e.

The story quotes, "Almost a year later, however, the Web site is still searching for an audience. Its chief architect has left for another venture in Las Vegas, and his team went with him. And while Post executives say they remain committed to providing so-called hyperlocal news coverage, they are re-evaluating their approach."

The article does reach one right conclusion - "Mr. Curley's (the chief architect) crew was trying to reach a much different audience than they were used to. Unlike Lawrence, Kan., which had a small populace linked by an easily identifiable set of interests, Loudoun County is a 520 square-mile area with seven towns whose residents share little else besides a county government."

We'd like to point out that both the WSJ and Washington Post really missed the mark with respect to connecting with Loudoun County online. For one, Loudoun County isn't only "7 towns" - a tremendous number of residents actually live in HOA-controlled subdivisions and developments, or "interstitial" areas between (is that redundant?). Secondly, residents share quite a lot, not only many variations of regional affiliations, but also vicarious interests as experienced through their children, jobs and sports teams. Third, LoudounExtra decided to "overlay" its unique brand and method of online journalism on top of the County and its constituent readers, rather than "integrate" and "socialize" it. Here's why.

In the experience of what turns out to be very astute local journalists, Internet
professionals and marketing practitioners, marketing online to Loudoun County, and in fact to all of Northern Virginia (NOVA), has very little to do with zipcodes, high tech and explicit data, and everything to do with user-defined neighborhoods, relationships and conversation.

While Loudoun may appear to outsiders as the bastion of high-tech (with AOL, for example), in practice, the majority of residents actually aren't either well-versed or "time-enabled" to turn to the Internet and Web 2.0 capabilities for much local information or news. These are the residents who enable the persistence of at least 5 local print newspapers, who communicate primarily by email, who talk on their cellphones a lot, who really refuse to discuss education online (it's simply too sensitive), and who drive many hours a day in "offline" activities related to families or jobs. These are also the residents who are either fiercely loyal to their area of the County or NOVA (which may have little do with zipcode or township affiliation, and more to do with their children-driven activities and jobs), or are part of the transient melee of government-related workers who haven't, or won't, stay long enough to grow roots. Fundamentally, if you're not communicating, interacting and conducting business together offline in this County, chances are high you're not doing it online. You can't easily browse a website in your car, or on the soccer field, after all - nor should you want to.

The successful purveyor of online information to Loudoun will also understand that, in order to actually meet readers online, you'll need to get engaged in the neighborhood or focused-interest forums that already exist. Well-read discussion forums like the Brambletonian, heavy-hitting comment threads over at Leesburg Today, the enthusiastic Blog stable at Loudoun Times, the Myspace crowd of South Riding, the neighborhood email lists of Ashburn, very notable and recognized niche blogs like Too Conservative and our own Gateway to Loudoun County (and the "original" Living in LOCO), "Mommy" sites and forums like I Am Modern, Yahoo Groups, regional portals like Dulles South Online, local wikis like Loudounpedia, etc., etc.

In short, Loudoun County actually had a very well-established online "social media" presence before LoudounExtra hit the wire, that was basically ignored both online and off. Except, perhaps, for the daily highlights of local blogs at "Linked Up in Loudoun" - note that this "blog" area of Loudoun Extra was habitually underserved, with persistent links to old or inactive blogs, and not much outreach or "share in advertising revenue options" for blogging enthusiasts.

The last major area of stumble for the site has to do with the power of the Search Engine. Simply visit Google for example, and search for phrases like "loudoun news", "loudoun restaurants", "loudoun schools", "loudoun businesses" "loudoun politics", etc. What do you find? In nearly all cases, the first entries in Google's search results are local newspapers, portals, businesses, etc. (many of our sites, in fact!). It's even more pronounced in MSN's Live Search. Sure, LoudounExtra shows up in the top 10 some of the time - but with its budget, clout, WAPO heritage and seemingly invincible technology capacity, LoudounExtra should have been "search engine optimized and marketed" (SEO/SEM) to the hilt, and showing up first on all these searches. It wasn't.

Perhaps the most telling example of corporate policies impacting marketing/SEO practices is in the "Title Tag" (what you see at the top of your browser window) of the main site - it simply gives the name of the site and sponser - vs. describing what it actually is (how about "Loudoun County Local News, Information and Sports"?). Even though the site itself was technically first-class, it was a digital content "silo" - content simply wasn't reused, distributed or marketed enough elsewhere on the web (i.e. search engine or social media marketing). For example, visit Google Videos and search on "Loudoun Politics". You'll get some great and ground-breaking Loudoun County political videos from the Loudoun Independent newspaper, along with other user submissions. Zilch from LoudounExtra.

It's also important to note that the local online establishment didn't exactly ignore LoudounExtra. Much effort and expense went into upgrading local websites, adding social media functions, increasing hyperlocal internet marketing activities, and altogether responding actively online to such an imposing and sudden threat to readership, traffic and ultimately advertising dollars. Even the offline, print content around county improved in response (which wasn't matched by the respective offline county section of the Washington Post). In fact, there existed before, and now even more, quite a bit of respectable, coordinated and word-of-mouth activity among the local information merchants (who are also neighbors) regarding protecting their "turf" against out-of-county agents.

In all, the story WSJ tells isn't unsurprising, to the Internet denizens of Loudoun County. It's also a good lesson to both Large Media Organizations and to those who might be subsumed (listen up, Vegas!).

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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Loudoun County Gangs, Awareness and Intelligence

Yesterday's Loudoun County Gang Awareness seminar, put on by the Loudoun Sheriff's office and the Gang Intelligence Unit at the Dulles South Safety Center in South Riding, was a really great overview for the public on how to recognize and respond to gang activity in the neighborhood. Here's some nuggets and comments from the seminar.

(More information can be found at Loudoun's Gang Response Intervention Team Site)

- Relatively speaking, Loudoun County is in a reasonable position regarding dealing with the prominence and activities of gangs; our rates of gang-related criminal activity are much lower than all surrounding jurisdictions - one reason is the great "head start" our County got in addressing gang activity, through training partnerships with Fairfax County. Most violence in our county is "gang-to-gang", with the #1 crime in Loudoun being public graffitti, a.k.a. "newspapers of the street".

- Loudoun's Gang Intelligence Unit started in 1999 with one Part-time Investigator - it's grown now to 8 FT positions, along with regional and federal government partnerships and "virtual presence" through Student Resource Officers in the schools. Immigration (i.e. ICE) is especially collaborative with local law enforcement, immediately addressing and removing illegals associating in gang activity from the country.

- Street Gang participation (apparently noted as "domestic terrorism" by some Judges) is a Felony in Virginia, which isn't the case in DC, MD or West VA. Both the legislature, court systems and police groups have responded quickly and aggressively in identifying and implementing this degree of punishment; it seems to have really begun to help in the past 24 months, with gang activity down across all of Northern Virginia. The school systems in particular have "come a long way in the last 4-5 years", in recognizing and responding to gang activity.

- By far the single, largest common denominator with respect to Gang startup and participation (over 80% of members are under 18!) is lack of parental supervision at home - this is regardless of income level or social status.

- MS-13 (light blue colors) and 18th. St. (red colors) are 2 primary gangs with Loudoun representation; there's not an "overly-large" "Blood" representation, and not a lot of "all-girl" gangs at all.

- The majority of activity by the Gang Unit's "clientele" is so far clustered in areas of Sterling Park, Countryside and Ashburn, with South Riding (only at 4-5 actual "incidents" active cases logged so far in the 4 month-old county database system, out of about 100).

- Primary things the public can do include immediately notifying the Police or the Gang Intelligence Unit (1-866-NO-GANGS) of ANY gang-related, suspicious activity, including presence of new or updated graffitti. Also, parents need to be very cognizent of their child's activities and "representation" (i.e. clothing, accessories), that may indicate gang activity. In Virginia, there's "no expectation of privacy" for children in a home you own - so be sure to regularly inspect your house, and their rooms.

- Evidently there's been a "huge thing" occuring with respect to online Gang-related or indicative activity, leveraging Myspace in particular, centered around South Riding - be sure to absolutely monitor and control your child's Internet activities (for Internet Safety tips/techniques, see our Dadministrator Loudoun Internet Safety) blog.

All-in-all, a very good session with lively feedback.


Sunday, June 08, 2008

Just a Great UVA Picture

...from the University of Virginia Reunions 2008 Weekend - what a magnificent setting and show they put on!



Fairfax-Loudoun Businesses Pair Up to Offer Regional Washington DC Omni-Media Marketing and Communications

(Press Release)

KME Internet Marketing (KME) of South Riding, Virginia announces a strategic alliance for Washington DC regional Internet Marketing and Communications with Trivision Studios of Chantilly, Virginia.

This partnership enables end-to-end delivery of coordinated, integrated and highly-effective omnimedia marketing and communications for our clients, including powerful and creative marketing, entertainment and multi-media campaigns on the Internet, in print, with distributed electronic media, and broadcast via TV and radio. This Northern Virginia partnership also creates the most targeted, flexible, relevant and comprehensive opportunities for local businesses and organizations to promote their own brand, products, services or events to audiences in the Metropolitan Washington, DC region or anywhere in the world.

This alliance is an especially powerful and relevant business event in the DC area, originating in Northern Virginia's Dulles South area of western Fairfax, western Prince William and eastern Loudoun Counties. With the rapid growth and expansion of local businesses, national and international commercial interests in this area, this partnership provides very critical, focused and coordinated business services in an otherwise segmented and difficult-to-negotiate regional advertising market. This alliance also showcases the availability and advanced capabilities of two leading representatives of Northern Virginia's world-class Internet technology, new media and professional services community, and in particular highlights the effectiveness of regional collaboration between Fairfax and Loudoun County technology leaders.

Read more about this Northern Virginia Media and Communications announcement...


Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Local School Runs the Board with Regional and National Teams, Individual awards...

After many months of training, warm-up competitions and local contests, athletic dominance was achieved by our local school in several categories of regional and national competition. Following successes at the early Spring Regional Invitational meets, both the boys and the girls tied for 1st among 275 other school teams at nationals. The competition was intense, but several of our athletes maxed their scoring with perfection on the courts, in the Gold divisions. This regional powerhouse ended another very strong year of superior Olympiad performance, in all categories...

...of 4th-8th grade academics, of course. (Which sport were you expecting?)

This year's awards ceremony at the Nysmith School for the Gifted, in Herndon, was a virtual cavalcade of honors any area high school or college would be hard-pressed to match. It was amazingly refreshing to witness cheering students, a packed audience of family and friends, very proud teachers and absolutely beaming children accept the very top honors and awards from regional and national competitions (like Odyssey of the Mind, Mathcounts and the Thomas Jefferson Math Open, Wordmasters, Science Fairs) along with individual honors bestowed on exceptional students in all grades, all subjects.

Where most local papers, discussion boards, media and parents are consumed with school sports team successes, this very close community is consumed with athletics of the mind, and nationally competitive results in spelling and geography bees, mathematics, science, music and art, logic and critical thinking are absolute proof that this school does right by its students. We desperately need more acknowledgement in this area of the country, like the example Nysmith sets, that academic excellence is truly the objective of the educational system, and is how the US will generate its future scientists, inventors, philosophers, business creators and other world leaders.

For reviews of other great Northern Virginia Private School Reviews, see I Am Modern, a Women's Lifestyle Magazine and Social Forum.


Sunday, June 01, 2008

The Best Time to Consider Energy-Saving Replacement Windows for Northern Virginia

Here's some timely and interesting information from a long time family business and local window replacement and installation provider in our area...

The Northern Virginia and Loudoun County area is a region of significant temperature and weather variations, though not typically to utterly unreasonable extremes. Springtime weather may change from very hot and humid to cold and rainy in a single day, while mid-winter temperatures in the 70’s (for January!) tend to occur every few years. Therefore, your choice and options for replacement windows in Northern Virginia should take into account the rapid changes and variations of weather, without necessarily focusing solely on seasonal averages. Your new or replacement windows should assist your overall energy conservation goals by effectively separating warm from cold air at all times, whether the cold air is outside the window, or inside the home. These objectives are relevant for any kind of window, from vinyl windows to wooden, from double-hung to single-pane patio doors or enclosures, and from home windows to commercial siding.

This time of year (late spring) is an especially good time to have your Northern Virginia windows examined, repaired and/or replaced. (Note that window repair should be considered for any type of window scratch, crack, stain or other factor that would decrease the effectiveness of heat transfer or reflectivity). Long rain events occur with decreasing frequency, thunderstorms are not yet into their summer cycle, temperatures are moderate and both heating and air conditioners are likely not being utilized as much. Installing during the time will allow you to set a baseline from which your energy cost savings resulting from installation of new, energy-efficient windows can be more accurately measured over the coming years.

Energy Advantage Low-E Glass is a high performance, energy efficient window glass made with an invisible coating that blocks heat flow. It was invented by Roy Gordon, a Harvard University “Thomas Dudley Cabot Professor of Chemistry”, in the 1970’s, with full-scale manufacturing and production started in 1989 by Libbey-Owens Ford, a company with more than a century of experience making glass. Low-E glass is manufactured with a microscopically thin and transparent layer of metal or metal oxide that reflects infrared “heat” energy back into the home, greatly enhancing the thermal performance of the window. “Low-E” refers to “emissivity”, which is a measure of the ability of a surface to absorb or reflect heat. As an energy efficient glazing technology, Low Emissivity (or Low-E) glass is a poor absorber of heat.

Keep reading over here...

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