TV worth watching: Manhattan

Picture of Frank Winter (John Benjamin Hickey) and Charlie Isaacs (Ashley Zuckerman)

Frank Winter (John Benjamin Hickey) and Charlie Isaacs (Ashley Zuckerman), physicist protagonists of the WGN America television series “Manhattan”

tl;dr: Manhattan is a quality TV show about the people racing to build an atomic bomb and their families. It’s well worth watching, but you’ll enjoy it more if you remember you’re not tuned to the History Channel.

Sometimes people say that a particular TV show is “the best thing you’re not watching”. With respect to Manhattan the second part of this is certainly true; the show’s ratings are pretty low, even in this age of niche shows and fragmented audiences. The first part I can’t definitively speak for, since I don’t watch a lot of TV, but in general I like Manhattan and definitely recommend you check it out—hence this blog post.

Briefly, Manhattan is a (very heavily) fictionalized telling of the race to create the first atomic bomb, focusing on the scientific community at Los Alamos, New Mexico. It’s about the actual Manhattan project in the same sense that the movie MASH was about the real-life Korean War—just as MASH used an early-1950s setting to explore 1960s Vietnam-era attitudes, Manhattan is an effort to search for the roots of the post-9/11 “war on terror” and its subsequent fallout (Guantanamo Bay, Wikileaks, Edward Snowden, and so on) in the secret World War II-era scientific and engineering efforts that led to the creation of the national security establishment and the military-industrial complex.1

Picture of the Los Alamos entrance on the set of Manhattan

The entrance to the Los Alamos “tech area” on the WGN America television series Manhattan

It’s a pretty weighty premise for a TV show, and the scientific nature of a lot of the plot is a further barrier for prospective viewers just looking for an hour’s entertainment. (For example, one of the major plot points hinges on the fact that the element plutonium used in atomic weapons has multiple isotopes, one of which, P-240, undergoes spontaneous fission much more readily than the more common isotope P-239.2) The show is produced by the fledging network WGN America, apparently in an attempt to establish itself as a serious player in the “prestige television” market, similar to what Mad Men did for AMC.

Unfortunately 1940s physicists are not as relatable to most people as 1960s advertising executives, which may help account the low ratings. When I started writing this post I didn’t know whether WGN America was willing to subsidize the show any further, and I thought I’d be writing an obituary rather than a recommendation. Happily WGNA recently decided to renew the show for a second season.

So, why should you watch Manhattan? First, the historical and scientific background is genuinely interesting, especially for a former physics major like me but I think potentially for others as well. We all know how this show ends (with the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki) but the path to working atomic weapons was long and fraught with difficulties—for a while it was unclear whether it was even possible to build a working bomb. Manhattan, like almost all TV shows and movies, takes some liberties with the actual scientific facts, but the core of the story is real, and the key problems that the protagonists face are the same problems that their real-life counterparts strove to overcome.

Following on from the previous point, it’s great to see fictional characters who (no matter their personal foibles) are intelligent and competent—people you can actually believe could solve major technical problems. (Even the non-physicist characters are generally pretty smart people; with perhaps one or two exceptions no one comes off as an idiot.) It’s a refreshing change from TV shows and movies where scientists are played as overly-confident villians or comedic ivory-tower types. (As an prime example of the latter I give you The Big Bang Theory, a show that I found to be utterly unwatchable the one time I tried to watch it.)

Cast of "Manhattan" in character

The cast of “Manhattan”, including Ashley Zuckerman and Rachel Brosnahan (left and second from left) as Charlie and Abby Isaacs, and John Benjamin Hickey and Olivia Williams (fifth and sixth from left) as Frank and Liza Winter.

Finally, the cast (of mostly unknowns, at least to me) is almost uniformly excellent. The actors portraying the main protagonists do a particularly good job in my opinion, but really pretty much everyone in the main cast is spot-on. They’re helped out by the writing; I can think of only a few instances where the combination of writing and actor came off as somewhat cartoonish.

Manhttan is by no means a perfect show. A lot of people commenting on the Facebook page take issue with the ”soap opera” aspects of the show. Some of this is attributable to the desire of the show’s creators to highlight the human drama inherent in being uprooted from normal life and plopped in the middle of a jerry-built secret city in the middle of the New Mexico desert, especially for spouses and children left behind while the (mostly) men-folk went off to “the Hill” to toil on tasks they couldn’t talk about when they came back home for the night.

Some of it is also due to trying to keep viewers from fuzzing out during the science-y parts, in anticipation of some juicy action and intrigue to follow. As one example, there have been two deaths by gunshot thus far, which is one more than occurred during the entire history of the Manhattan project, an enterprise that employed 130,000 people at its height.

Another issue is that Manhattan (like many other TV series and movies) often anachronistically projects back into a former time the attitudes and issues of the present-day. For example, as noted above a premise of the show in exploring the roots of present-day secrecy in the race to build an atomic bomb. But in fact the real-life scientists in Los Alamos apparently weren’t quite as oppressed by security concerns as the fictional scientists on the show, and for the most part behaved as scientists typically do in terms of sharing information and cooperating amongst themselves. (That would change, but not until after World War II when the Cold War began in earnest.)

The show also touches on various social issues, pretty much all of which get the standard “Hollywood liberal” treatment. Again, there’s a partial excuse for this, since the scientists at Los Alamos were part of an American intelligentsia that even in the 1940s was pretty socially liberal, but it sometimes comes across as a bit didactic.3

These issues keep Manhattan from being truly great in my opinion, but it’s still one of the better shows I’ve seen in the past few years. Tonight is the season finale (at 10 pm Eastern on WGN America, channels 29 and 568 on FiOS TV in Howard County), but if you’re like me you can catch it on Hulu at your convenience.

For those interested in reading more about the show, unfortunately unlike many other “prestige” shows Manhattan hasn’t gotten a lot of attention on pop-culture sites. The best sources for commentrary and recaps are at science writer Jennifer Oulette’s “Cocktail Party Physics” blog, the “Science Fact vs. Fiction” section on the web site of Popular Mechanics magazine, and on the web site of the Atomic Heritage Foundation, a nonprofit seeking to preserve historical sites and records associated with the Manhattan project. (The latter is a worthy project to which I recently donated.) The Los Alamos Historical Society also has some interesting material contrasting the show’s vision of Los Alamos compared to the real thing.

If you do decide to try out Manhattan I hope you enjoy it as much as I do, and if so we can look forward together to the second season.


1. See for example this interview with the show’s creator, Sam Shaw: “What I discovered … is that the birth of the atomic bomb … was also really the birth of the military-industrial complex, the birth of the American security apparatus. It’s the birth of secrecy at a national level as it exists right now.”

The Manhattan project was actually just one component of this birth. Others included the creation and large-scale deployment of radar, the British project to break the German Enigma code–itself to be explored in the upcoming movie The Imitation Game—and the parallel creation of the National Security Agency and other agencies that today make up what insiders call “the IC” (“intelligence community”).

2. I was a physics major, spent a semester in college working at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (one of the three main Manhattan Project sites), and have seen a working nuclear reactor up close and personal. But even I didn’t know (or had forgotten) about the plutonium isotope problem.

3. One social issue that Manhattan devotes some time to, anti-Semitism, was in fact a pretty big factor during that period. (For example, the future Nobel prize-winner Richard Feynman, who worked at Los Alamos during the war, attended university at MIT because his first choice, Columbia, had a Jewish quota in place.) One of the best episodes of the show thus far, “The Second Coming” (episode 8), dealt in part with what it meant to be a American Jew during World War II.

Online competency-based education

Following up from my previous post on my experience with Coursera, here are a few links of interest (mostly) relating to online education, with a focus on “competency-based education”, i.e., education directed specifically at teaching people to become competent at one or more tasks or disciplines:

Hire Education: Mastery, Modularization, and the Workforce Revolution” (Michelle Weise and Clayton Christensen). Clayton Christensen is famous for his theory of “disruptive innovation”, which I think is useful not so much as a proven theory but rather as a way to structure plausible narratives about business success or failure. When Christensen fails in his predictions it’s usually because he doesn’t pay attention to things that don’t fit neatly into his preferred narratives. For example, he and co-author Michael Horn previously hyped for-profit education companies and failed to see that for many of them actually educating students was not the point. Rather those companies identified a “head I win, tails you lose” business proposition in “chasing Title IV money [i.e., government-subsidized student loans] in a federal financial aid system ripe for gaming”. This represents a second try by Christensen and his associates to forecast the future of post-secondary education.

The MOOC Misstep and the Open Education Infrastructure” (David Wiley). One of Clayton Christensen’s blind spots is that he tends to overlook what’s going on in the area of not for profit endeavors. In his blog “Iterating toward Openness” David Wiley covers the general area of open educational resources (or OER); this post is a good introduction to his thinking.

Web Literacy Map (Mozilla project). A real-world example of the sort of competency-based open education initiative that Wiley’s promoting. See also the Open Badges project, a Mozilla-sponsored initiative to create an open infrastructure for granting and publishing credentials.

A Smart Way to Skip College in Pursuit of a Job (Eduardo Porter for the New York Times). “Nanodegrees” are online education provider Udacity’s own take on competency-based education, created in cooperation with major employers.

Missing Links: How Coding Bootcamps Are Doing What Higher Ed and Recruiting Can’t” (Robert McGuire for SkilledUp). You may be beginning to see a trend here: A lot of the action in competency-based training is around software development, data science, and related fields. That’s because there’s high demand for skilled employees in certain fields and a lack of truly-focused traditional educational offerings to meet that demand. A related trend: Sites like SkilledUp that are trying to be become trusted guides to these new-style offerings.

Last but not least, here are some other people’s reviews of the Johns Hopkins Data Science Specialization courses on Coursera that I’m currently taking:

From a local point of view these changes (if indeed they continue and are amplified) are not likely to affect high-end universities like Johns Hopkins; they’ll survive based on their ability to select the most talented applicants and plug them into a set of networks that will maximize their chances of success.1 The question is rather how they’ll affect institutions like Howard Community College that serve a broader student population that’s looking to acquire job-relevant skills.


1. Note that from this point of view online offerings like the John Hopkins Data Science Specialization help to promote the institution and identify potential applicants. In fact, just this week I received an email from the Bloomberg School of Public Health inviting me to attend one of their “virtual info sessions” for people considering applying.

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!