Adventures in online education

The last three months or so I’ve been in school (which is why I haven’t been posting as much lately). Not a real bricks-and-mortar school—I’ve been participating in the “Data Science Specialization” series of online courses created by faculty at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and offered by Coursera, a startup in the online education space. It’s been an interesting experience, and well worth a blog post.

The obvious first question is, why I am doing this? Mainly because I thought it would be fun. I was an applied mathematics (and physics) major in college, enjoyed the courses I had in probability, statistics, stochastic processes, etc., and wanted to revisit what I had learned and (for the most part) forgotten. It’s one of my hobbies—a (bit) more active one than watching TV or reading. Also, I’ve done some minor fiddling about with statistics on the blog (for example, looking at Howard County election data), am thinking about doing some more in the future, and wanted to have a better grounding in how best to do this. Finally, “data scientist” is one of the most hyped job categories in the last few years, and even though I probably won’t have much occasion to use this stuff in my current job it certainly can’t hurt to learn new skills in anticipation of future jobs.

The next question is, why an online course? Because I didn’t have the time (or the money) to commit to attending an in-person class, but I wanted the structure that a formal class provides. I’ve been (re)learning linear algebra out of a textbook for over four years now, and I still haven’t gotten past chapter 3. Part of the reason is that I’m doing every exercise and blogging about it, but mainly it’s that I don’t have an actual deadline to finish my studies. In the Coursera series there are nine courses, each lasting a month, with quizzes every week and course projects every 2-4 weeks depending on the course. I’ve been doing pretty well in the courses thus far and don’t want to spoil my record. For example, the first project in the current class was due Sunday but I was concerned about missing the deadline and so finished it last Friday night.

I like the way the series of courses is structured as well, not just as a class in statistics (only) but covering the whole range of skills needed to wrangle with data in its various forms, not least including the problems of getting datasets and cleaning them up. Each class thus far has only been a month long, so the time commitment is not that great and I know any work I do today will pay off in a completed course not too far down the road. It is a fairly serious commitment of time though, especially since the course video lectures cover only a fraction of what you need to know in order to do the course projects and correctly answer the more difficult quiz questions. I’ve probably spent almost 10 hours each week working on various aspects of the classes, including doing a copious amount of Internet searching to find out the additional information I need. But it’s been time well-spent: I feel like I’m getting a good understanding of how to do “data science” tasks—not that I know everything, but I have a much better picture of what I need to know, and what it would take to finish learning it.

The course I’m currently taking (“Exploratory Data Analysis”), like the others in the series, is what’s been referred to as a MOOC, or “massive open online course”, open at no charge to anyone in the world who wants to participate over the Internet. The instructors provide video lectures and create the quizzes and class projects but are not otherwise directly involved; the students provide help to each other in online discussion forums, assisted by “community TAs”, i.e., former students who volunteer as teaching assistants. MOOCs have recently been the subject of both hype and caution; now that I’ve been involved in them day-to-day I can provide a personal perspective on the controversy.

First, I think MOOCs are good for the sort of people who invented them in the first place: Internet-savvy folks with a technological bent who are motivated to learn something and have the necessary free time and background experience and knowledge to do so effectively. I’ve certainly appreciated having convenient no-charge access to a wide variety of classes, many of which (like the courses I’m taking now) have been put together by people who are leaders and innovators within their fields. I’d even consider paying for at least some of these courses (at $49 each) in order to get a more formal “verified certificate” (as opposed to a “statement of accomplishment”, and may do so for later courses within this series—potentially good news for Coursera, which in the end is a profit-making enterprise.

However for people who are not Internet-savvy, not all that motivated, and don’t have the necessary background then MOOCs aren’t a good choice. In fact, they’re about the worse choice there is. The dropout rates in MOOCs are extremely high (well above 90% in many cases), and the first serious test of MOOCs as a replacement for in-person college courses (at San Jose State University) was not a raging success. Which is not to say that online learning in general is doomed; in its more traditional forms (for example, University of Maryland University College) it’s doing quite fine.

MOOCs are simply the latest in a long line of attempts to move away from the traditional classroom model and “disrupt” the existing educational establishment. They’ll eventually find a place in the overall educational picture, most likely serving a variety of needs from “learning as hobby” (what I’m doing), high-end vocational education (what Coursera competitor Udacity seems to be morphing into), or as a supplement to traditional classes. But that’s for the future, and no real concern of mine; in the meantime I’m just trying to learn how to plot in R.

 

The end of eMusic and me

Last week I cancelled my subscription to the eMusic digital music service, a subscription I paid for faithfully for over ten years. I spent a few years of my blogging life writing about eMusic as a subscriber, so it’s appropriate to mark the end of my subscription with one final post.

eMusic has gone through many business models over the years, but at the time I joined it was a would-be solution for people who wanted to listen to lots of music, especially music out of the mainstream, but had only a limited budget to pay for it. Operating in the post-Napster era, eMusic focused on people who wanted to download tracks and albums as MP3 files, and would commit to pay at least $10 a month for the privilege. Initially the service allowed “unlimited” downloads for one fixed price. This was after the major music labels had sued Napster into submission for offering a similar service at no charge (and without authorization by copyright holders, of course), so even with the promise of payment no major labels were willing to sign up. The offering was thus limited to independent music labels, and even then much of the music available was only marginally appealing (to put it politely).

eMusic’s history since then can be summed up as adapting to the realities of the music business by compromising on the original vision of “all you can listen to, one fixed price”. First, people who tested the limits of “unlimited downloads” were put on a diet—eMusic’s obligation to pay per-track royalties meant that heavy downloaders cost more to eMusic than their subscription fees brought in. Then (after being acquired by a private equity firm) eMusic put fixed limits on the number of tracks that could be downloaded per month. Even with the download limits per-track prices were still well under what mainstream services like iTunes and Amazon were offering, so major labels still refused to participate and eMusic was still focused almost exclusively on independent labels.

That focus was blurred when eMusic was finally able to attract major label releases by Sony, at the expense of imposing a major price increase on users. At the time only older releases were available, not current releases, but later eMusic further revamped their pricing, including the introduction of “album pricing” (i.e., purchasing an album at a fixed price and not track by track), in an ultimately successful attempt to persuade more major labels to offer more releases on eMusic. Today most albums on eMusic are only slightly less than what they cost on Amazon or iTunes.

Through all of this I maintained my eMusic subscription. So why am I quitting now? First, eMusic’s business model no longer worked for me: I was paying over $10 per month for a subscription, and per eMusic’s traditional “use it or lose it” subscription model I was paying that whether I downloaded anything or not. More and more I just didn’t have time to evaluate which albums I wanted to download; a couple of months I forgot to download anything at all.

Second, eMusic’s original vision of “all the music you want, one fixed price”, the vision that was so attractive to avid listeners and then so compromised by business realities, has now been realized in the form of streaming services like Spotify. In the Napster era advances in broadband networking made it possible to download music tracks as MP3 files as an alternative to buying CDs, and the convenience of getting instant access to music drove adoption of digital music. Continued advances in networking make it possible to stream music straight to devices (even mobile devices on cellular networks) as an alternative to downloading MP3 files, and the ability to listen to (almost) any track instantly without an additional purchase is driving adoption of streaming services.1

Thus as soon as I cancelled my eMusic subscription I upgraded my Spotify subscription from the $5 per month “unlimited” level (which I used for ad-free listening on my laptop while at work) to the $10 per month “premium” level, which provides ad-free listening on all devices, including smartphones and tablets. The major remaining barrier to widespread streaming for myself and others has been the fear of blowing through cellular data plan limits while listening in the car or otherwise away from home. One carrier, T-Mobile, is trying to remove that barrier by exempting selected streaming services from data limits; it’s no coincidence that I’m considering switching to T-Mobile in the coming months.

However even if I switch I’ll still be stuck in the past to a certain degree, since unlike many nowadays I actually pay for the music I listen to: The “new normal” for young people is to listen to ad-supported streaming services, whether in the form of the free Spotify plan, “Internet radio” services like Pandora, and iTunes Radio, or music tracks uploaded to YouTube. What this trend means for the music industry in the future is a bigger story; maybe I’ll come back to it another day. In the meantime I’ll reserve my MP3 purchases (just as I’ve been reserving my CD purchases) only for music that’s special to me, or that I can’t get any other way.


1. The trend to streaming has also been accelerated by a feature of copyright law in the US and elsewhere that mandates much lower per-track royalties for streaming services than for download services like eMusic. This makes it possible for an “all you can eat” streaming service to at least have a shot at profitability, something that was impossible for the original eMusic unlimited download service.

The CA board and the Inner Arbor Trust

Unfortunately I won’t be able to attend the Columbia Association board meeting this evening. Here are the remarks I had planned to make during the speak-out portion of the meeting; if anyone else wants to crib from these for their own remarks please feel free to do so:

I have two points I wanted to make tonight:

First, I have not seen the language of the Inner Arbor Trust easement, and am not qualified to comment on legal issues relating to the easement. However I have read pretty much every public source of information I could find relating to the various proposals for Symphony Woods, and everything I’ve read indicates that the Columbia Association has been accepting of the actions taken by the Inner Arbor Trust since its creation. That includes in particular the Trust’s decision to leverage the work already done by CA as part of the county planning process, and concentrate first on developing the part of Symphony Woods covered by the current Inner Arbor plan—a plan whose elements are those contained in the original CA-submitted Final Development Plan, including an amphitheater, café, play area, and so on. There is nothing in the public record to indicate that the Inner Arbor Trust was ever acting in violation of the easement as far as CA was concerned. If the current CA board is determined to test the issue in court I believe that the private record of dealings between CA and the Inner Arbor Trust will also show this to be the case.

Second, if the CA board is determined to pursue action against the Inner Arbor Trust then it will presumably put at risk the construction of the Chrysalis amphitheater, the first feature of the Inner Arbor plan scheduled to be realized. The Chrysalis is a key element of the plan, and a needed complement to a renovated Merriweather Post Pavilion. It is also a beautiful and innovative structure, designed by an award-winning architect who’s been hailed as “the rising star of the 21st century”. It would be a shame if Columbia were to lose the chance to host the first major work by an architect who may become as prominent in this century as Frank Gehry did in the last. And given that construction of the Chrysalis is being funded by the county, it would more than a shame if the CA board’s actions cause schedule delays and consequent cost overruns for which Howard County taxpayers will be asked to pick up the tab.

I believe the Inner Arbor Trust has produced a superior plan for Symphony Woods, a plan of which CA has previously been supportive. By all indications the Inner Arbor Trust has also been executing on that plan in a competent and timely manner. For the CA board to now reverse CA’s previous support of the Trust would I think do a disservice to the residents of Columbia and the rest of Howard County, who want to see a renewed and vibrant Symphony Woods. If that reversal ultimately leads to expensive and protracted legal proceedings then I think the board would also do a disservice to the Columbia Association itself, and risk damaging CA’s ability to effectively serve the Columbians to whom it is ultimately accountable.

As for what the CA board will end up doing, I have no idea. I look forward to reading reports from those who are able to attend the meeting.

UPDATE: Fixed a couple of grammatical errors.

Chrysalis designer wins World Architecture News 21 for 21 award

Architectural rendering of the Chrysalis, exterior view

The Chrysalis in Symphony Woods / Merriweather Park in the Inner Arbor plan. (Click for high-resolution version.) Image © 2013 Inner Arbor Trust; used with permission.

Marc Fornes, the designer of the Chrysalis, the amphitheater planned for Symphony Woods as part of the Inner Arbor plan, and his firm THEVERYMANY are one of two winners of the 2014 WAN 21 for 21 award sponsored by World Architecture News, “an initiative aiming to highlight 21 architects who could be the leading lights of architecture in the 21st century”.

(This actually happened back in the spring, but I was only recently alerted to this when I was checking out who linked to my blog and saw a Rhino News blog post that mentioned the award. I’ve previously written about the Chrysalis, Fornes, and his firm THEVERYMANY as part of my ongoing coverage of the Inner Arbor plan; see in particular my initial post and my follow-up post discussing the structure of the Chrysalis in more detail.)

THEVERYMANY and 2014 co-winner sP+a (Sameep Padora + Associates) were selected from a total of 94 entries submitted, of which 42 were selected for more detailed consideration. The accompanying story notes that “As soon as Marc Fornes’ work was set on the table it was clear that a unanimous agreement [among the judges] was brewing” and quotes one of the architects judging the awards praising Fornes as “an absolute leader” and “the rising star of the 21st century”.

So what’s all the fuss about? The entry submitted by THEVERYMANY highlighted the Chrysalis, and discussed the firm as a “studio committed to the design and construction of prototypical architecture via custom computational methods”. The language of the submission is somewhat dry and abstract, so I’ll try to describe Fornes’s methods more informally:

Traditional architectural practice is based on architects conceiving of a structural form or set of forms in their minds, putting pen to paper to refine the design through drawings, and then using computers primarily as an aid to the rest of the process: creating more detailed drawings to nail down the final look of the structure and make sure everything will fit together as envisioned, doing structural analysis to see if the structure can handle loads, producing good-looking renderings for clients, and so on.

THEVERYMANY turns that process on its head: Don’t use the computer as a simple drawing tool, a substitute for pen and paper. Use it for what it’s truly capable of, including exploring the space of possible three-dimensional structures. More concretely: Start with sophisticated 3D modeling applications (like Rhino, the one Fornes uses). Extend them with powerful programming languages that can be used to drive the 3D modelers (Fornes uses Python as implemented in Rhino). Leverage applications that can take complex 3-dimensional surfaces and join them together into structural elements and then into complete structures (see for example RhinoNest). Add code that can analyze such structures for soundness, and that can produce instructions for computer-controlled machinery to create individual pieces that can then be assembled into the finished structure. Finally (and most importantly), find people like Fornes and his associates who have the knowledge, discipline, and aesthetic sensibility to incorporate these techniques into the heart of their architectural practice.

As the submission entry states, “The desire is not to generate models, nor installations, but rather 1:1 scale structures, prototypical architectures.” Fornes has been developing such prototypes for many years now, and “continually pushes constraints at larger scales”. The result of this work is the Chrysalis amphitheater as you see it here, a beautiful airy structure that looks as if it had emerged naturally from the earth. I hope it won’t be long before we see it in real life as part of Symphony Woods, replacing the temporary stage that’s been used this year during Wine in the Woods and other events. If all goes well it will be in place sometime next year, and Columbia can (as it did with Frank Gehry) once again boast of hosting the early work of an architect who seems destined for great things.

Campaign signs 2014: Final results

The Maryland 2014 primaries are now over, and it’s time for me to wrap up and name some final winners. I’ve had a busy past few weeks with a dozen posts critiquing more than six dozen signs (plus one car magnet). In case you want to revisit signs in any of the primary races, here’s the complete list of posts (rearranged from the order in which I posted them):

Note that I’ve updated the Board of Education and House of Delegates District 12 posts to add pictures of signs for Allen Dyer and Eric Ebersole respectively.

I already selected winners (or in some cases, multiple winners) for signs in each race. Now it’s time for me to name winners in some special category, as well as an overall winner for all signs I saw.

mirabile-delegate-9a-largeThe first category is for the best slogan. As I’ve mentioned previously, I’m not too hot on including campaign slogans on signs, and certainly there were a number of signs in this election where the slogan wasn’t doing much more than taking up space. However on Frank Mirabile’s sign the slogan “Time to Stand Our Ground” is both memorable and does something useful, namely letting the more partisan voters in a party primary know exactly where the candidate, uh, stands.

stewart-delegate-12-2014-largeAfter seeing lots of signs I get tired of looking at conventional color schemes, either the American colors red, white, and blue or the Maryland colors red, white, black, and yellow, and I yearn for a change. I thus decided to have a “color my world” category, in which the winner is the large Nick Stewart sign and its orange on blue color scheme.

miller-delegate-9a-2014-small-changedSome signs I thought were almost but not quite what they could be. In some cases (as, for example, with Ryan Frederic’s sign) I don’t know enough about graphic design to determine how the sign could best be improved. In other cases I thought just a relatively small change would do the trick. Hence we have the “most easily improved” category, with the winner being the small Warren Miller sign once the (in my opinion) superfluous design elements in the upper left and right corners have been removed (as I’ve done here).

broccolino-states-attorney-2014-largeFinally, the moment you’ve all been waiting for (or not, as the case may be): My pick for the best Howard County campaign sign of 2014. Those of you who’ve been reading this entire series will not be surprised at my pick, the large Dario Broccolino sign. This sign made me go “wow” the first time I saw it, and I haven’t seen another sign to top it since then.

With that I’m concluding this series, at least for now. I did collect pictures of signs for the gubernatorial race and the race for Attorney General, but I just ran out of energy to post and critique them; maybe later. Also, if I have time and the inclination I’ll post closer to the general election if there are any new signs that didn’t show up in the primary.

Finally, some thanks: First, thanks to all of you who’ve come to this blog to read these posts; I appreciate your attention, and hope your time was worth it. A further thanks to those of you who stopped to comment, who sent me pictures of signs, or who pointed out where I could find them; I love hearing from readers, and thank you for taking the time to contact me. And last but not at all least, thanks to all the candidates who put themselves out in the public eye and ran for election to public office. As I wrote before, you had to endure people commenting on your public appearances, counting up your Twitter and Facebook followers, and making videos about your direct mail pieces. And thanks to me, not even your signs are safe from criticism. Thank you for bearing it all in good grace, and being willing to serve the citizens of Howard County and Maryland.

This is the end of my one-a-day posts; I now return you to your regular (or I should say in my case, irregular) programming. I’m not sure when I’ll post next, or what I’ll post about, but if you’re interested in what more I might have to say please take a moment to click the “Subscribe via email” button or add my RSS feed to your newsreader. Till later!

Campaign signs 2014: Howard County Executive

Today is primary day, and the day I cover the last of the local campaign signs, this time for Howard County Executive candidates Allan Kittleman and Courtney Watson (both of whom happen to be unopposed in the primaries).

Here are the signs, in alphabetical order by candidate, along with my comments, according to the criteria I’ve previously discussed.

kittleman-county-executive-2014-small

I’ve previously written about the problems inherent in using all four colors of the Maryland flag in a single sign. This sign handles those problems as well as they can be handled, mainly by avoiding the red text on yellow background found in signs from Trent Kittleman, Frank Mirabile, and others. Instead this sign carefully restricts itself to the exact color juxtapositions found the Maryland flag: black with yellow, and red with white. More specifically, it restricts itself to what I think are the best color combinations: black text on a yellow background and white text on a red background.

Some other things to note about this sign: The typeface is clean and readable; it’s bold enough to stand out but light enough to allow adequate space between the letters. Using both upper and lower case in “Kittleman” means that the text isn’t quite as wide as it would be if it were in all upper case, and thus it can fit better on the sign. (“Kittleman” has nine letters, just like “Grabowski” and “Markovitz”; compare this sign to the Grabowski and Markovitz signs I discussed in my previous post.) The red banner-like design element in the upper right corner is well-done; note that on the left side of the element the yellow background seems to form an arrowhead pointing to the “Proven Independent Leader” slogan. The slogan itself points diagonally upward to the right to make the sign more dynamic (the same technique used on the Dario Broccolino sign). Finally, note that the horizontal line separating “Kittleman” from “Howard County Executive” is not just red on yellow (a poor combination) but is both red and white in order to maintain the preferred color juxtapositions I mentioned above.

The one thing that bothered me about this sign is that the “Howard County Executive” seems a bit thin. When I was walking around the neighborhood I had some trouble making that text out when viewing the sign from a distance.

kittleman-county-executive-2014-large

The design of the large version of the Allan Kittleman sign is the same as that of the smaller sign, except that “Howard County Executive” is now one line rather than two, is in a slightly bolder typeface, and (at least to my eyes) is more readable.

watson-county-executive-2014-large

Like Courtney Watson’s 2010 sign, this sign uses white text on a blue background to good effect: The text is very readable (especially “County Executive”), and there’s a good visual progression from oblique serif type and all caps in “COURTNEY” to the bold san serif typeface of “WATSON” to the sans serif mixed case of “County Executive”.

The one potentially problematic part of this sign is the design element in the upper left corner. Typical non-text elements in signs are either totally non-representational (e.g., lines or borders) or are common symbols that are immediately recognizable (e.g., stars, apples, flag-derived banners). This element is clearly intended to represent something, but it’s not immediately clear what that something is. My personal interpretation is that it’s symbolic of Howard County’s rural heritage: (yellow) sun above (white) road above (green) field; however I’m not sure the average person would see it the same way as I do. Nevertheless the colors are very nice and brighten up what would otherwise be a plain and unadorned sign. (Note also that subtle green line that separates “WATSON” and “County Executive” and echoes the green in the upper left conner.)

Now for the tough part: Which sign to vote for? This contest is certainly not as lopsided as we saw four years ago with Trent Kittleman’s sign vs. Ken Ulman’s sign; these signs are much more closely matched. Both sign designs are professional and effective but neither is perfect, for reasons explained above. On Kittleman’s side I think this the first black/yellow/red/white sign design I actually find attractive; on Watson’s side I really like the sign but consider it just a step down from the 2010 sign. In the end I’m going to take the coward’s way out and call this a toss-up.

This concludes my look at the campaign signs for Howard County local races in 2014. In my next post I’ll wrap things up and name some overall winners in various categories, including my choice for the best Howard County campaign sign of 2014.

Campaign signs 2014: Howard County Council District 1

With the primary one day away, I’m close to the end of this campaign sign adventure. Today we look at the signs in the race for Howard County Council in District 1, a seat left open when Courtney Watson decided to run for Howard County Executive. The candidates are Democrats Dave Grabowski, Lisa Markovitz, Wendy Royalty, and Jon Weinstein, and Republicans David Blake Melton and Kevin Forrest Schmidt.

Here are the signs, in alphabetical order by candidate, along with my comments, according to the criteria I’ve previously discussed. Note that I could not find any signs for David Blake Melton.

grabowski-county-council-1-2014-small

Dave Grabowski, like Lisa Markovitz and Dario Broccolino, has the problem of having a long name that’s difficult to fit on a sign; unlike Renée McGuirk-Spence, hyphenating it is not an option. Unlike the Dario Broccolino sign, which provided more room for the name by displaying it on the diagonal, this Grabowski sign adopts the simple strategy of displaying the name horizontally in a serif typeface that is pretty readable. Overall the sign is clean and well-designed, with no extraneous elements or slogans. The background color isn’t one of my favorites, but that’s just a matter of taste; certainly it provides a good contrast to the text.

markowitz-county-council-1-2014-small

I like the color on this sign; it’s a change from the typical colors and is not so pastel that it causes contrast problems. However I think the typeface used for “Markovitz” is just a tad too bold, and that does affect readability a bit. Compare this sign to the Grabowski sign above; both names are the same length but I think you’d better be able to recognize “Grabowski” from a distance. Also, I’m not sure the “Vote ‘14” design element in the upper right corner adds anything.

royalty-county-council-1-2014-small

This is a solid sign: No extraneous clutter, typeface that’s bold but still readable, and a good background color.

royalty-county-council-1-2014-large

This is almost the same design as the small Wendy Royalty sign, but it’s missing the white border found on that sign. To me that’s to its detriment: I think the white border works well to frame the main part of the design. Without the border all that red in the background gets to be a bit much. The design is cropped really tight as well; notice how close the “R” and “y” in “Royalty” are to the edge of the sign.

schmidt-county-council-1-2014-small

A nice minimal sign that highlights the candidate’s (full) name and position sought without trying to cram anything else in. The color and typeface look good as well.

schmidt-county-council-1-2014-small-2

This is an interesting sign. Kevin Forrest Schmidt couples this sign with his regular sign, for example putting the “RUN FORREST RUN” sign next to or in front of his other sign. It’s a cute gimmick to lend some personality to the signs, although I’m not sure if it’s worth printing double the number of signs that normally would be required.

weinstein-county-council-1-small-2

Jon Weinstein likes yellow and white text on blue backgrounds; his 2010 campaign signs used the same color scheme. This one is interesting because it’s a variant of the design on his other small sign. I don’t really like the stars intermixed with dots; it seems a bit busy. However I do like the typefaces on this sign.

weinstein-county-council-1-2014-small

The different typeface and the switch to mixed upper and lower case on “Weinstein” make this sign a bit more legible. However I think the typeface on this sign is a bit lacking in personality compared to the previous sign.

weinstein-county-council-1-2014-large

This sign is just a taller version of the small sign, with “Howard County Council” spread out over three lines to add height. I think that’s a mistake, as it makes the design look too skinny. I think it would have been better to drop the “Howard”, put “County Council” on one line, and reduce the height just a tad.

Which sign should go on to the general election? There are no clunkers in this race, but overall I think I like the small Wendy Royalty sign the best. However the large Wendy Royalty sign serves as a warning that a good design can be significantly compromised by seemingly minor changes (in this case removing the border and cropping more tightly).

In my next post I’ll look at the marquee Howard County race, and the last local race for which I was able to find signs, namely the contest for Howard County Executive.