Thursday, February 23, 2012

Mosquitoes versus our ponds

Mosquitoes are rapidly becoming intolerable again in north Galveston County, and there will likely be the usual debate as to whether they are primarily attributable to all the rain that has created standing water in local areas, or tidal impacts to saltwater marshes.

Our last significant outbreak occurred in October 2011, when Galveston County Mosquito Control (note that their URL contains an annoying buzz that you may not want resonating throughout your cube farm, if you work in one) made a PR blunder in stating that they weren't actually that bad.  In fact, they were horrible, and the ensuing recant described why. 

October's outbreak was exacerbated by the earlier effects of Tropical Storm Lee, which caused higher-than-normal tides to flood saltwater marshes, prompting mosquitoes to hatch out.   (If you remember, T.S. Lee was probably THE most expensive and devastating tropical system that Texas never had, because the winds fueled the wildfires that wiped out parts of Austin suburbia and, of course, Bastrop.)

At this point, I don't know if this latest batch of mosquitoes is primarily the result of local rainfall saturation, or salt-marsh hatch-outs.  But while basking in the outdoor air yesterday, I did receive an interesting question from a Centerpointe resident, the inquiry being punctuated by repeated slaps at arms and legs: Why isn't the retention pond behind the apartment complex (Walker Commons)  drained just as our neighborhood's own stormwater retention ponds are

Centerpointe's dry-bottom ponds will retain some water immediately after heavy rains, but then they go dry again, presumably minimizing the number of mosquitoes that are able to hatch out of them.  But that large pond behind the apartments is permanent - it's full of water all the time. 
Google street view looking north from League City Parkway.
This is a darned good question, and the answer is as follows: That is NOT a stormwater retention pond.  That's an old flooded sand pit (these things are also called borrow pits). 

At some point between 1943 and 1955, sandy fill was excavated from that area, almost certainly for construction purposes.  In order to illustrate the history of that pond's development, it's most useful to work backwards in time from our present-day familiar reference point:
Topographic map last updated in 2010.  You can see the distinctive pattern of Centerpointe's streets near the words "League City", and the pond toward lower right.
Same area in 1995, pond still visible.  Centerpointe's construction would not start for approximately another five years.
Same area in 1955, with the pond appearing as purple stipple, indicating that it is a new feature added since the previous map, which is shown below.  IH-45 / Hwy 75 is referred to on the map as a "freeway" for the first time.
Approximately the same area in 1943.  No pond was present at that time.  IH-45 was referred to only by its original name, which was Highway 75, indicating that it was not a "freeway" at that time.

All map grabs courtesy of
Given that pond's location and its age, it was almost certainly used to supply fill for the original construction of the Gulf Freeway.  That history is strongly reflected in the topographic map series shown above.
And if you REALLY want some ancient history on this area, you can look at the 1929 topographic map that is available on line.  At that time, the only way to Galveston was via the original public right-of-way, what we now call "Old Galveston Road" - aka Highway 3.
You can see similar borrow pits (or "sand pits") all around greater Houston.  It costs a lot of money to transport the enormous amounts of dirt fill needed for freeway construction.  Therefore, TxDOT tends to acquire that material as close to the construction area as possible.  In some cases, the old sand pits have been used to enhance property development (e.g., the apartment complexes around the Windmill Lakes up by Almeda Road; Mammoth Lake Scuba Park about 50 miles from here in Clute is an example of an old sand pit permanently filled with groundwater and put to a productive commercial use).

That being said, this League City Parkway pond is a bit unusual in the degree to which it is fortified with fencing, signage, gates, etc.  Part of that is undoubtedly for liability reasons, as unauthorized and unsupervised use of these ponds sometimes leads to drownings, such as this one from last year.  But there's potentially another reason why security at that pond is relatively tight:  word on the street says that the pond's owners keep it stocked with some really awesome fish.  They don't want trespass leading to accidental drownings, but they also don't want people to steal their fish.  But that's just a rumor I heard on the street.

That news article cited above makes note of the fact that these pits can be up to sixty feet deep!! Hence the inability to drain them: even if they could be pumped dry, they're usually so deep that they would simply fill back up with groundwater again. 

Despite the inability to drain that pond, if you contemplate the sum total of information above, you'll realize that it is not likely a primary source of Centerpointe's mosquitoes because:
  • A healthy stock of fish will keep mosquito larvae under control, and
  • If it were a big mosquito-producer, we would experience heavy mosquitoes here in Centerpointe more-or-less continually, and we clearly do not. 
What DOES tend to influence our neighborhood mosquito misery is how often the nearby fields are mowed.  High grass does not produce new mosquitoes, but it gives abundant shelter to the mosquitoes that migrate out of the coastal salt marshes and into our area.  A good mowing of the fields east of Centerpointe often yields an immediate reduction in mosquito numbers here.  So if you have an urge to complain about the little buggers, you can do two things:
  1. Contact Galveston County Mosquito Control at 800-842-5622 to request a spraying, and
  2. Call the realtors posted on the "For Sale" signs in that field and request that the property owner have the weeds be mowed down.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Doing things the chard way

You know someone is a nerd when they start making puns about vegetables.  Today's honor goes to Brazoria County Master Gardener Jim Molony, who penned a Bay Area News feature title "Chard for life: Under appreciated green good for you, easy to grow"

Nerdy or not, what he says in this article is true, and then some:

While most greens, including lettuces, collards, kale and cabbages, to name a few, tend to bolt or fade as soon as the hot Texas summers arrives, chard keeps right on going until the very hottest part of the summer, and even then it usually doesn’t die, it just dies back a bit and then returns as good as ever in the fall.

I'm not a southern girl but I love my greens done southern-style (but not over-cooked), and chard can be difficult to buy (mustard greens and kale tend to be more common).  Even when I would buy it, it tended to be very bitter and very expensive (about $4.00 per bunch at Whole Foods, which historically has had some of the better-quality stuff).   A year and a half ago when I stuck a couple of bunches of "rainbow" chard into my garden, I didn't have high hopes for their success.  I figured it would be bitter and would fail to thrive (because it's a cold-weather vegetable), but I like to experiment, so what the heck.

To my surprise, it turned out to be some of the best-tasting chard I've ever had, not bitter, and the original plants I installed eighteen months ago are still producing table-worthy servings.
It's also photogenic. 
This yellow stuff fared best over the awful summer of 2011.
The red stuff didn't stand up to the summer heat as well,
but bounced back in the fall.
This is what the original chard mostly looked like,
before it was selectively bred to produce colors.
So there you have it, for those of you who are gardeners - and I'm constantly surprised by the number of people in Centerpointe who are gardeners.  We don't have a formal gardening group going in the neighborhood at this point, but here in Section 9 alone, our gardeners include a fruit tree specialist, an Ag student with an extensive vegetable array, a family growing ethnic Asian vegetables, a stay-at-home Mom currently starting up a new vegetable garden for her kids, and of course your blogger, champion chard-grower (but actually I just stuck it in the soil and let nature take over from there), and those are just the gardeners I know about.
Yes, we DO eat some of our landscaping,
thanks very much.  :-)

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

On the issue of subdivision gates

The following comment was included verbatim in the last neighborhood newsletter:

"I have asked several neighbors what their thoughts were about our neighborhood adding gated access for a one-time assessment fee.  I would feel much safer, and I think it would go a long way towards property value retention as well.   Is there a way to petition interest?  Those asked were all for it."

This is where I invite folks from the blogosphere to comment if they have specialized knowledge regarding this issue.  When I try to search for applicable regulations on the internet, what I get is too much legal detail and not enough 30,000-foot view (as some of the screengrabs below will illustrate), so the statements below might not be correct or complete. 

That being said, from the information I have been able to assemble, subdivision gates appear to be a non-starter for Centerpointe.  There's no use petitioning to see if there's support because even if 100% of residents express a preference for them, we lack the legal basis to install them even if by some miracle we could collectively afford the cost. 

Centerpointe's streets were originally platted (and remain) as public rights-of-way.   As such, it would seem that they cannot be impeded or restricted without major legal action which would probably involve vacating them AS public rights-of-way and getting them declared as private property instead.  After that point, our little POA (rather than the City of League City) would then be responsible for maintaining both the streets and the gates in perpetuity, with the streets being to a standard of quality equal to or better than similar public rights-of-way.  

(Not only that, if you start researching what it takes to administratively and functionally maintain gates, your hair might fall out from the enormity of it.) 

An anecdotal report seems to support the private property basis described above.  We have some friends in the well-known Sugar Creek subdivision in Sugar Land.   If you look at the entrance to Sugar Creek, you can see a curious thing:
What's wrong with this picture?!
Why would you have a shack in a location such as this?
So you can simply watch as cars zoom by?
Screengrab from the Googlemaps little highway man.
There's a rather fancy entrance shack upon which a lot of money was obviously spent, but no corresponding gates are present.  Rumor has it that gates WERE installed at one time, but were removed because someone sued the subdivision for barricading a public right-of-way.  It's not legal to do that, and so the gates had to be removed.

I haven't been able to verify for certain that this did, in fact, happen, but if I look at the anecdotal references on the internet, they unilaterally support this notion that only private streets can be gated. 

For instance, the City of Colleyville's municipal code discusses gating regulations at length, and while that content is strictly applicable only to that city, is is undoubtedly consistent with state law precedents.
Note the immediate distinction between public and private streets.
URL here
Similarly, guidance for subdivisions platted in County-controlled areas also makes reference to the issue of private property.  For example:
Excerpted from Hunt County, Texas subdivision guidance.
URL here
Well, heck, that's all well and fine, but what does League City itself say?!

League City's Code of Ordinances is maintained on the Municode platform.  Again, it's a lot of detail and less of the 30,000-foot view, but these passages are instructive:

Again we see the public-private distinction,
and Centerpointe's streets are public.
There is a large passage detailing the technical standards that apply to gates, but again, the emphasis is on the streets being private, not public.
URL here
So there you have what appear to be the facts of this matter: legally we couldn't install gates even if we wanted to.  But if a sufficient number of residents express a desire to investigate this issue further, by all means, get together and approach City Council in order to feel them out on the likelihood of the City's approving a request to vacate our streets, and by all means, derive some supportable estimates of the corresponding costs, and I'll publish them here for initial contemplation. 

UPDATE 2:12 pm:
Here are a few comments from the property management company on the subject of gates:
  • Initial costs of up to $50,000 to install gates can be expected (not sure if that's per-entrance or per the three entrances).
  • From that point forward, homeowners must pay the subdivision's electrical bills (streetlights) and all repairs to lights and streets (resulting in a signficant increase in annual property assessments). 
  • Telephone lines would also have to be added to each gate and paid for monthly.
  • Monthly maintenance on gates is expected to be $500 - $8,000 (they are very subject to damage from motorists) - again, these costs would be added to everyone's assessments. 
  • Would require insurance policy rate increase - another monthly expense.
  • Remote control devices are $20 - $35 apiece, paid for by homeowners. 
  • Police would no longer patrol the subdivision or respond to calls regarding offenses such as automobile speeding, because the streets would be private property.
That last one kinda clinches it for me.  At this time I cannot foresee any net benefit to discontinuing police patrols in here.

Monday, February 20, 2012

A monarch moment

A few pretty pics here in celebration of yesterday's picture-perfect weather.  After the sixth wettest start-to-a-year on record, the sunshine and warm temps were a welcome relief.

If you were out and about the neighborhood yesterday (which you arguably should have been), you may have noticed that the monarch butterfly migration is underway.  These amazing creatures are the only species of butterfly that migrate in a style similar to birds, from Mexico to more northern latitudes, and back again in winter.
If you want to get pics like this, you have to be patient.  These are skittish creatures, but if you stand near their target destination (here, a bolted broccoli plant) for ten minutes or so, they will acclimate to your presence. 
Bee-cause we have one of the few landscaped back yards in Centerpointe Section 9, we tend to attract an extremely large quantity of these guys, which have few other local flowers to visit.  I noticed yesterday that the bees were harrassing the monarchs, trying to chase them away from the flowering plants.
And if you're patient long enough with your camera, you might get rewarded with a beauty shot such as this.  According to Wikipedia, this is a male monarch... 
...and he graced our backyard yesterday en route to points north.
(Monarch migration excerpt from

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

CCISD zoning revisited

FYI, about a year ago I published a post describing how Centerpointe is zoned with respect to public high schools.  The whole thing is fairly confusing and involves a systematic migration away from the original zoned high school (Clear Springs) and into Clear Creek High School.  This was the original CCISD implementation schedule I posted at that time:
I can't reference a refreshed URL pertaining to this table, because I can no longer find it on CCISD's website.  Their zoning boundary maps are published here, but there is no associated discussion of an interim implementation scheme that I can locate. 

All of this is relevant because my child recently received several computer-generated communications indicating that she is still zoned to Clear Springs, at least according to CCISD's computers, despite the fact that they apparently made these changes well over a year ago.  If you have a child transitioning to high school, verify your paperwork carefully, and don't necessarily take everything at initial face value.  I submitted a request for confirmation just to make sure that nothing has changed regarding the transitions described above, and I'll comment below if I learn anything important.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

VL burglaries on February 9

Bay Area News is reporting that two burglaries happened on the same day on February 9 (this past Thursday) in nearby Victory Lakes:
The two streets are called Tahoe and Kinston.
These burglaries appeared to follow a common pattern of occurrence: during business hours when the owners are away at work and the house is empty.  Three months ago, I blogged about an attempted break-in here in Centerpointe in which men entered the home of a woman on Walnut Pointe, apparently thinking it was empty.  At that time, I also linked to some very down-to-earth tips to help folks avoid this kind of thing. 

Anyway, the message to take away from this is be vigilant.  Burglars often do not simply flip coins to choose which houses to target.  They often observe, plan, and confirm ahead of time which owners can be counted on to be away during business hours, and which have people remaining in their houses (stay-at-home Moms, retired people, grandparents, shift workers, etc).  Report any suspicious people to the police.  Or if you think that reporting to the police is a bit too alarmist for the circumstances you are seeing, at least write down any unfamiliar license plate numbers (I keep pen and scratch pad close to my newly-refinished front door, and sometimes snap cell phone pics when I'm not sure how to interpret what I'm seeing).  At least that way you can later ask your neighbors if those cars are familiar to them.  If you later see the same car/same license plate coming and going again, and none of your neighbors have proven to know who that person is, your suspicions may begin to increase to the point where you judge that it's time to ask the police some questions. 

Monday, February 13, 2012

Door duty

It's a rite of passage for every buyer who commissions the building of their own home: that despairing moment when you stand there realizing that your picture-perfect made-to-order jewel has now aged to the point where you need to begin your first round of minor repairs.  Where does the time go?!

One of the first items to require restorative maintenance is likely to be your front door, if it is one of the stained wooden varieties.  Particularly if direct sunlight falls on it, you're going to find that the finish just doesn't stand the test of time.  Our front door is a leaded-glass mahogany upgrade which faces southeast - great for feng shui, but it gets blasted by direct sunlight.  Less than two years after it was installed, it had begun to look like this:
This is a close-up of a bottom raised panel.  Do you see how the molding is turning grey, and the coating ("varnish") has pretty much totally broken down in this area? 
I really should have turned my attention to this before now; I almost let it get too far gone for an easy fix to be capable of restoring it.
Here's another unpleasant surprise:
If your door was stained a darker color than the natural wood, chances are good that the sun took at least some of the color out of it.  Here you can see that the edge of the door, normally sitting in the frame, was shielded from the sun and thus retained the original color. 
In this post, I'm going to describe how I lightly stripped and re-sealed our door, but I did not opt to do a complete restoration to include returning it to its original stain color (it's just going to bleach out once again in another year or so anyway, so that kind of expenditure hardly seems worth it to me, but you may have a different opinion regarding your own situation).  If you want to do that kind of work, with re-coloring, it's probably better to hire a professional (at who knows what cost, versus about fifteen bucks for the DIY shown below). 

In other words, I used a CLEAR polyurethane - not a tinted one.  Stained wooden doors typically do not bleach out evenly - the bottom section ends up with more sun and water damage.  For this reason, if one uses a colored product, it's likely going to soak in to different degrees on different parts of the door, which means that the door might no longer be the same shade from top to bottom.  That would look nasty, and that's also why I recommend that you hire a professional if you want a total stain-color restoration. 

Here are the steps I took.  Remember that your door may be different, and what is shown here may not produce the same results for you.

I used a fine-mesh steel wool to remove the remains of the sun-damaged coating.  It's also possible to use very fine sandpaper, but the door has these raised panels and ridges, so it's easier to do with wool which will conform to the shapes.  Steel wool like this is available at any hardware store (don't use the kitchen kind that has soap in it!). 
After you get the damaged coating off, you have to remove all the dried varnish dust and steel wool fragments using a tack cloth.  Very important that you don't re-coat the door with gunk still in the grooves because you will seal it in there and it will look awful. 
Clear exterior-grade polyurethane will work fairly well for this job.  It may sound very liquid and sloshy in the can, but remember to stir it well.  It contains solid polymers that will settle to the bottom and which will need to be stirred back in prior to use.

If your DIY skills are not exceptionally good, you may want to choose a "satin" rather than a high gloss polyurethane (as I did).  New doors are usually done in high gloss, but it's harder to re-apply a high gloss with a brush such that it looks like a professional job.  Satin products are more forgiving at hiding brush marks, small drip marks, etc. 

Make sure you pick a nice warm, dry day with no chance of rain to do this also, so that the new coating will dry thoroughly.
You can use a regular brush for this (any of those that are sold as appropriate for oil-based products) but I prefer to use disposable foam brushes, which leave fewer streak marks and which can help to soak the polyurethane into all the little channels and grooves in the molding.
Here you can see the bottom part of the door about half done.  The right side has been re-coated, while the left side is still bare.  The difference is obvious. 
And voila - the first coat has been completed, and the grey is gone.  While this result falls somewhat short of the door's former deep reddish-brown stained glory, (a) it looks about a thousand times better than it did before I started, and (b) the wood is now protected from further degradation due to weather exposure.

You should do at least two, and preferably three, coats of polyurethane for maximum protection.  Each successive coat should be THINLY APPLIED.  This will help it adhere and you will also minimize drips and streaks if you do successive thin coats.  It's best to allow at least 24 hours between coats, even if your can of polyurethane says the time interval can be shorter.   You'll know when it has become fully set - the coating will feel hard like a thin layer of plastic, instead of tacky. 

And don't wait too long to do this.  Depending on your weather exposure, you might have to re-coat your door once a year or less to keep it in good condition.  Mahogany doors are beautiful, but they demand significant maintenance like this. 

Friday, February 10, 2012

Garden guest

About a year ago, I created a post describing snakes commonly found in our area.  Here's a new one for the list:  Texas brown snake.

My nice round pupils suggest that I'm completely harmless.
Native venomous snakes in the U.S. have "cat eye" elliptical pupils, whereas nonvenomous snakes generally have round pupils.  The notable exception is the brightly-colored coral snake, which has a round pupil. 
My small size tells you that I couldn't get my mouth around any part of you even if I wanted to (that's me wrapped around your blogger's finger).  Although it's always a good idea to wear gloves when handling wildlife. 
In all my years in Texas, this was actually the first one of these little native guys I've ever seen.  He was promptly transferred out of lawnmower's way and into one of my vegetable gardens where I'm sure he will do good work controlling insects.
I'll be on my slithery way now, thanks very much.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Under ground and above board

Lots of viewing entertainment this morning at the new Shell gas station construction site.  There's a finger pumper laying concrete, and those bulbous red objects are two of the gasoline underground storage tanks (USTs) that will be buried on the property.
Some folks are surprised when they see how big these things are.  They tend to be between 10,000 gallons and 20,000 gallons apiece, and multiple tanks are buried at each station - that's a lot of gasoline!  You can see that the one on the left appears to be longer than the one on the right.  That one has more capacity and is likely going to be used for one of the lower gasoline grades, which tend to sell at higher through-puts than the premium grades.
 My teenage daughter will attest that I routinely assault her brain with Daily Learning Moments in which I explain in short, snappy sentences the basics of how the world works, for the sake of strengthening her general knowledge and perspective.  Here is one such snippet regarding USTs and how government regulation and environmental impacts have conspired to produced the style of gasoline retail station we most commonly see today.

In the "olden days", retail gas stations were often operated as small "Mom and Pop" type businesses.  Unfortunately, that business model was one of the factors that contributed to environmental degradation, ultimately involving soil and groundwater pollution from tens of thousands of leaky fuel tanks.  Given that about 28% of of Texans use groundwater as their drinking water source, that contamination was a big problem.  One of the reasons why we see larger, more intricate franchise gasoline stations today is that the federal and state governments had no choice but to impose stringent technical standards upon them, to prevent continued groundwater pollution.  Many small operators could not afford to meet those standards, and the result was market rationalization into a preponderance of large, newer franchises, such as the one being built just outside our neighborhood

Texas has made considerable progress in cleaning up its underground storage tank legacy.  EPA summarizes the progress on this website, and the graph below shows how Texas has fared:
 25,610 leaking petroleum storage tanks! 
Next time someone suggests to you that Texas does not need "burdensome" environmental regulation, quote them that statistic and see how they respond.

EPA uses the acronym LUST for Leaking Underground Storage Tank.  Texas decided to change that term to Leaking Petroleum Storage Tank (LPST).  It's a more accurate term, and the change was also rumored to have been partially motivated by a concern about the potential for sexual harassment connotations surrounding the L-word.

 Excerpted from:
And speaking of Daily Learning Moments, as I happened to have my camera functioning this morning, I'll close this post with another one: 
West Walker Street is not a four-lane street.

Not only were these motorists doubled up where they should not have been, the dark one persistently remained in the white one's blind spot.  Not smart, folks.
I see this a lot, and I really wish the City of League City could have more pavement markers out there, like a shoulder line or bike lane line, to discourage it.  Look at how close that white truck is driving to the curb.  If he had bounced off that thing, it would have thrown him directly into the path of the darker vehicle.  This scenario is just not necessary. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Missing pet resources

Depending on where and when you got your pet, he or she may have a microchip and you might not even know it or have the corresponding information uploaded to the internet yet.  We got our dog from Galveston County Animal Shelter, and a microchip was already in her.  All I needed to do was take the number from the adoption papers and enter it into the web database administered by the referenced service.  That happened to be Home Again, which is one of the two major American chip companies, the other being AVID (according to Wikipedia). 

A week or two ago a dog named Molly went missing from Centerpointe Section 9.  Molly escaped while construction was ongoing at her owner's residence.  She has reportedly been spotted at various locations around League City, but nobody has gotten hold of her yet.  The fact that Molly's APB was recently blasted to all of the local Home Again subscribers will help her chances of a safe return.

I am reminded of this service yet again as I just got yet another email blast, this time for a chocolate Labrador Retriever named Sunny who is missing from a location near the corner of Meadow Lark Lane and League City Parkway, which puts his point of origin about one thousand feet south of Centerpointe Section 9.  Let's hope he gets home safely. 

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Troublesome train

Last night around 9:45 p.m., a very long train was stopped dead right in the middle of League City, blocking FM 518 and Walker Street. 

When that happens, the only way to get from one side of League City to the other side is to head south to League City Parkway (SH 96), and go over the train bridge, which is what we did.  Upon crossing the bridge, we could see the nose of the train to the south of the bridge, so this darned thing was well over a mile long, stretching all the way back presumably to somewhere in Old Town or perhaps even Clear Creek. 

In other words, it wasn't just a couple of intersections affected - the entire city was gridlocked, as motorists and pedestrians alike were denied mobility.  This kind of thing creates unsafe conditions as drivers start making frustrated U-turns en masse along the arterials so that they can escape the jam.  And we had to drive all the way to SH 96 just so that we could double back all the way north to a neighborhood that fronts on Clear Lake.  We don't know how long that train was stopped, but we DO know that, 20 minutes after our first U-turn, Google was still failing to update speed conditions along FM 518 near Highway 3, suggesting that traffic was still not moving normally there. 

My first question is this:  What recourse does our local police department have when this kind of thing happens?  I have a friend who is an officer in another city and I recall him stating a few years ago that it was against the law (in his city, at least) for trains to block public rights-of-way via stoppage for longer than 5 minutes.  It was his absolute most-favorite ticket to write (ticketing the train engineer) simply because it's the kind of thing that disrupts and inconveniences thousands of people.  And what happens if an ambulance needs to rush someone to the hospital and the road is blocked?  Train stoppage is a potentially serious thing.  According to my officer friend, much of the time, the trains are not stopped because of a mechanical failure - they stop awaiting orders or because of track traffic or car shuttling or whatever.  So it's something that's avoidable for them. 

My second question is this:  When public aggravations like this occur, what's the preferred means of communicating with LCPD?  Obviously this doesn't rise to the level of being an emergency so 911 is not appropriate.  I'm also not sure I want to dial the main number 281-332-2566 and bother the dispatcher with something like this, and so I went searching on the internet to see if there are other informational ticker-like options out there.  Something like a text or email message that the dispatcher could read when not responding to more urgent calls.  I did find that the department has a button called "Online Reports & Incidents", but when clicked, it goes through to a consortium webpage of local police departments.  But when I clicked the "Contact Us" field for options, this is what I got:
So anyway, I'm not really sure what the answers are to those two questions, but I'll forward this blog link to the LCPD area commander for the region affected by last night's train, and we'll see what info is forthcoming.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Not just in ice machines

How do we miss the late great Marvin Zindler?  Let us count the ways...

But it's not just ice machines that are prone to developing slime.  When the weather turns warm, damp and dreary like it has been for the past couple of days, you may see another species of slime appearing in your own yards, particularly in mulch beds.  It's called egg slime mold or dog vomit mold, and it's quite a striking sight:
Your first clue that this is something other than dog vomit may be in the sheer size of the patches.  There is NO WAY that our dog could barf that much, and she's a champion barfer.
Local gardening expert Randy Lemmon has a rather hilarious entry on this stuff.   I particularly enjoy his reference to the 1973 near-panic in Dallas that this stuff caused, as people reacted in fear, believing it was from outer space!! 

It's not from outer space and generally it's harmless, although inhalation of the spores will make an average person start sneezing and can be particularly undesirable for asthmatics.  It's extremely fast-growing (the patches above, both about a foot across, developed in a matter of hours) but it tends to fade quickly as well.  So there's usually not a compelling reason to treat it with chemicals.  Personally I find the stuff fascinating.  Here for your viewing enjoyment is a collection of photographs from the patches currently distributed throughout our yard, a static montage that I will title "Symphony of Slime".  Rest in peace, Marvin.

When it first appears, it's bright yellow, as in the first photo above.  As it ages, it begins to develop spores and turn different colors, mostly brown or green, although depending on conditions, I've seen bright orange patches as well.

No, this is not spinach quiche, although it looks exactly like the recipe that I made the other night.  Seriously - check out the picture in that link.  And check out the recipe as well - it was awesome.
Here's a patch that is up against our fence.  It seems to go through a phase whereby it splatters parts of itself around its immediate area.  It grows so fast that you can almost watch it develop.  One day if I find myself with some spare time, I think I'll pull out a lawn chair and sit next to one of these for an hour or so, just to see what happens.
This is what they often look like after they've run their course and gone to spore. 

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

A new (odd?) search engine result

I frequently Google my own street in order to access a neighborhood map for various purposes (if you check out previous posts, you can see many graphics showing Centerpointe relative to other geographic features).

This morning when I did this, what returned as the top hit was not the usual Googlemaps link or anything close to it - it was a list of individual windstorm certificates published by Texas Department of Insurance.

Screengrabbed from:

Not all properties are listed here, but as I proceeded to access links, more addresses appeared on the list, as if maybe the database was being populated in real time. 
 What surprises me is NOT that this information is ON the internet, because EVERYTHING is ending up on the internet these days.  What surprises me is that it was the top-ranked hit in Google.  Usually websites migrate to the top of the Google heap because they are the most popular, with the greatest number of user clicks.  Who on earth would care to access this information such that it rises to the top??  I don't know... it might be destined to remain one of the great mysteries of the web. 
The reason for our relatively high insurance rates.