Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Should you invest in LED lights for your home?

In my personal opinion, the answer to that title question at this point in time is a resounding NO
This is the type of device I'm talking about - a Light Emitting Diode (LED) retrofit bulb suitable for use in single-family homes.  They come in a variety of styles and configurations.  Photo from Wikipedia
My opinion is based on our experiences with the things to date, which I will explain below.

Shortly after we moved into our house, my husband got a wild hair and decided that he wanted to put LED spotlights in our kitchen ceiling.  As I've explained in other posts, our kitchen is in the center of our home, not on one of the exterior walls, so it has no windows.  Despite the substantial illuminating contributions of one behemoth and now-beautiful skylight, we use the kitchen lights almost perpetually because, during the building process, we made sure that they were situated to shine directly onto the countertops.   Therefore they are particularly convenient regardless of the time of day or presence of light from other sources (we have under-cabinet lights as well, but the overhead ones really help). 

So our kitchen lights get unusually heavy use.  Furthermore, per the original house design, they happened to end up on the same electrical circuit as a lot of other important stuff, and we wanted to minimize the overall load on that circuit.  In consuming less electricity, LEDs can help to achieve this.

To make a long story short, my husband did the math, and the math revealed that LED spotlights would be expected to pay for themselves in about four years.  So he went out and spent over four hundred dollars to buy six large bulbs for our kitchen ceiling.

That may sound like a lot of money, but the important question is never the absolute cost - it's the payback time.  And in this case, the payback time appeared to indicate that it was a sound investment, given that we intend to live in this house for much longer than four years.

However, lifespan and energy costs have not proven to be the only important considerations.  Take a look at these two photos of our kitchen lights and note carefully the subtle but important differences.
This is one of the bulbs on the main switch.  There are five of them distributed around the kitchen.
This is the lone bulb above the kitchen sink.  Like most newer houses, ours has two switches for the kitchen lights, with the sink bulb operating independently from the rest of the suite.  You can turn on just this one, or you can hit the second switch and light up all six. 
Do you see how the over-sink bulb is a lot more yellowish than the other bulb in the picture above it?  That's because the kitchen sink bulb gets heavier use.  Very often, we don't need to turn on all six spotlights - we just need the one over the sink.

What this means 2.5 years into our ownership of these things is the following: When all six lights are turned on, five of them produce nice crisp light and one of them produces very snotty yellow overtones (in my opinion).  This discordant combination is very noticeable and is unsightly - and we paid over four hundred dollars to achieve it! 

We suspect this happened in substantial part because the bulb's transparent faceplate has discolored with time.  Note to self: In the future, always check to verify that any such light-emitting device has a glass faceplate, not plastic. 

It's also possible that the diodes themselves have degraded a bit, but the lights are only 2.5 years old - LEDs are expected to fade with time, but they shouldn't have faded this much in such a short period.

Of course, there are several potential workarounds to this issue, but none of them are appealing to me because part of me believes that if we pay over four hundred dollars for lightbulbs, we shouldn't have to be jumping through hoops to compensate for what are, in our opinions, their engineering shortcomings.  Pardon me, but that's a boat-load of money.  Not only should these things shine without a glitch, they should bloody well be rappelling themselves down from the ceiling and cooking us breakfast, for that price. 

But anyway, if you decide to buy some of these things, here are my personal suggestions:
  1. Check the current price comparisons, such as this one, to see if they'd really pay off in your specific home scenario.  LED prices have probably fallen substantially in the past 2.5 years since we bought ours.  The math may be even more favorable now, and that might modify the arguments I'm making here.
  2. Only buy bulbs that have glass faceplates so that you can perhaps avoid at least some of this yellowing degradation issue.  By the way, if you've had this same degradation thing happen to you and you have managed to replace your bulb's yellowed faceplate with a new one, please email me ( gmail) and tell me how you did it, because I would love to know. 
  3. If you use these bulbs in a kitchen scenario similar to ours, periodically rotate all the bulbs through the most heavily-used socket.  At least that way, if they get yellow, hopefully it will be a more uniform yellow and therefore not as noticeable or as ugly (in my opinion) as what we have inadvertently achieved in our kitchen.  We would have rotated ours from the outset had we been informed that this was going to occur. 
Isn't that last one a particularly fun idea??  The point in us getting bulbs that cost over four hundred dollars is so that we could save money but also save the time and effort involved in climbing up to a ten-foot ceiling to replace the danged things on a regular basis.  If instead we have to climb up for the purposes of rotating them every few months, it kinda defeats a big part of the purpose in getting them, does it not??

Happy LEDing.  Maybe. 

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

If the creek don't rise...

Those of you who read that "City Matters" snail-mail circular that League City sends to all residents may have noticed a provocative article on the fifth page of the October 2012 edition.  Here is a PDF of that (for as long as its link remains active) if you'd like to view it. 

The title of the article is "League City is getting new flood maps", and it's basically an introduction to the fact that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is in the process of remapping Galveston County, apparently in much the same manner as was done for Harris County under an initiative referred to as the Tropical Storm Allison Recovery Project (TSARP; the original FEMA website now re-directs to this Harris County Flood Control District series of pages). 
One of the iconic scenes from Tropical Storm Allison:  The Southwest Freeway's depressed section near Montrose.  Photo from Wikipedia.
Regarding this new mapping initiative, here is an interactive web page that Galveston County residents can review:
Screengrab from:
Here's a closer-in zoom.  Centerpointe is located just to the right of the scale bar. 
At this point, I will reserve most comments on this new mapping initiative, other than to note that no stippling or color shading changes appear to be affecting Centerpointe subdivision on the maps as they are currently presented on this FEMA site - in particular, none visible on this screengrab above.   

You can expect to hear a lot more about this topic both from League City officials and via commercial news media as the mapping project continues to progress.  I lived in Harris County several years ago during the adoption of the newer TSARP maps and, whoa, things were tense there for quite some time as folks focussed on how the updated flood hazard designations impacted both existing properties and new development interests.  Here is one old Chronicle story (for as long as its URL remains intact) which describes some of what transpired.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Hunter's moon 2012

It looks like it's just about bright enough to jump down out of the sky and slap you upside the head, does it not?
Moon Over West Walker Street,
around 8 p.m. tonight.
Tycho is eyballing you here.
It's hard to miss. 
We got lucky with this one
because the cold front of 2 days ago
left the local air very clear.
As EarthSky explains, this moon is referred to as Hunter's moon, being the full moon following the Harvest moon which, in turn, is the full moon closest to the Autumnal Equinox
That's all very technical, I know, which is why it needs to be counterbalanced by something far more lyrical.  Decades before there were lots of computer-enhanced vampire figures running about the big screen, there was Sting with "Moon Over Bourbon Street", the simple but intoxicating melody of which comes back to my mind every time I witness a brilliant sky spectacle such as tonight's. 

Read it and weep hole

Sometimes I don't take my own advice as quickly as I ought to.  And sometimes I just need one walloping cold front to appear before I can motivate myself to get outside and do it.

Such was the case this weekend when our lovely cool weather inspired me to both gut and scrub the garage following our discovery of mice inside my husband's antique car restoration project (and we are still jonesing for some of Walnut Pointe's reportedly excessive selection of outdoor cats... apparently nobody has sent any our way yet). 

Along with the remedial effort, there's the issue of how to keep mice out in the future.  It's no good simply cleaning up after them - you have to make sure that their food and shelter supply chains are broken. 

The most important measure is to ensure that no food is available on or near the premises, as I explained in this post from just about a year ago.  We never (ever) leave dog food out, and I don't believe that any of my neighbors do either, so I'm not sure what the attraction is (or was) to our particular house at this time, but let me not digress.

The second measure is to create a condition in which there is no shelter available to them.  You have to close off all entry points to the house and garage.  This is much more difficult than it sounds.  Reportedly, mice can squeeze through any opening in the house that is dime-sized or larger.  Rats can enter via a quarter-sized hole or larger. 
Yer gonna need one of these for this next investigative task.
I don't know if the mice got under the garage door or got into the house some other way and then migrated from there into the garage, but I'm not taking any chances.  Every potential gap in the house needs to be sealed. 

The usual limitation applies here:  I am not a licensed exterminator and this blog post is not a substitute for professional advice.  This is simply an anecdotal description of my own situation, and only a partial description at that.  Rodents can do tremendous damage to your house if not properly managed.  Get a professional opinion for your particular situation. 

One of the biggest potential rodent entry points is that both-blessing-and-curse, slab-on-grade creation known as the weep hole
When I bought my first house many years ago, I was horrified to see holes all along the base of the brick work!!  I thought it was just the product of sloppy brick-laying and didn't understand until a neighbor explained to me that these were intentionally included and are necessary for ventilation.  Screengrab of a weep hole from Wikipedia.
Weep holes are essential for allowing the brick facade on your house to "breathe".  As I understand it, if moisture gets trapped behind the walls, it may cause the framing studs to rot.  For this reason, you have to leave them open to the air, but if they are too wide, they can also let small rodents into the house.
Done properly, most of them should be fairly narrow, such as this one...
...but every once in a while, depending on the skill of the original mason and the configuration of your brick-work, you might see one that looks more like this.  Talk about a red-carpet invitation to little critters.  Might as well hang a miniature "Home Sweet Home" sign above it. 
If you check your house carefully, you might see those wider ones around ornamental brick-work areas in particular, perhaps at the base of columns or decorative bump-outs - the types of areas where the fixed size of the bricks wasn't quite right for the design, but the mason opted not to take all the extra time needed to trim the bricks to fit the geometry more precisely, thereby leaving larger weep holes. 

Given that air flow must not be impeded, one of the approaches for dealing with these is to loosely stuff them with copper wool.
You can buy it at pest management stores or online.  This particular product is actually called Stuff-Fit, with the name eluding to the intended usage. 
This kind of copper mesh is advertized as having the following advantages:
  1. It's chew-proof (or at least chew-resistant).
  2. It's loosely woven so it still allows air to flow through it.
  3. It won't rust and stain the side of your house like a steel product would.
Copper wool in abstracto
Quite pretty, isn't it??
This stuff is advertized for use in weep holes, for scorpions as well as mouse exclusion (I lived for three years in Austin, so I am way too familiar with the issue of scorpions getting into the house!), but I didn't find much detail on how much to stuff into any given weephole.   For that, I had to default to common sense: the point is to continue to allow the air through while stopping pests from entering. 
When I stuck my finger into the larger open weepholes, it felt cool, apparently because air was being sucked past it as it was convecting up the inside of the wall.  I cut about an inch of the copper mesh spool and crammed that loosely in the hole, distributing it across the depth of the brick (avoiding a huge tight plug near the front of the facade). 
A finger placed just inside the hole still felt cool, suggesting that air was still moving well across the now-stuffed area.
And by the way, while you're at it, make sure that all of your foundation plantings are cut back from the side of the house.  Many exterminators have told me that plants impinging on the house encourages termites as well as ants.  You can't keep an eye on the condition of weep holes if they are visually blocked like this.  And cutting the shrubs back also promotes better air flow in the area. 
So there you have Part 1 of the "hunt for holes".  I still have to figure out whether or not my garage door bottom seal needs to be fortified, but I will save that for another day.   In the mean time, I'll leave you with this informative vid from Houston's local ABC affiliate KTRK (let's see if I can get this embed code to work). 

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Re-psychling the trash contract

This article in this morning's Galveston County Daily News discusses the re-bidding of League City's trash contract, and on that subject, I have two questions:

1.  Why on earth do we have twice-weekly trash collection in this city?!  Is City Council not aware of the fact that our neighboring two million Houstonians get along just splendidly with once-weekly collection, and have for much of eternity?  Twice as much service tends to result in something approaching twice as much cost.  And then folks complain about the cost.  Does this make sense?
Here is an excerpt from one of the City of Houston trash collection maps for the Clear Lake City area.  It says "Thursday", period.  Not multiple times per week.

2.  If the contract really is awarded to the low bidder, which is Republic Waste, are we going to have to paint our illicit recycle rollies to match their particular color scheme?
Current contractor Ameriwaste uses bright red recycling receptacles.
As I explained in this post from earlier this year, several of us here in Centerpointe (not just me) decided not to use those inconvenient open-topped bins, and instead painted our own rollies to match the Ameriwaste color scheme, so that the trash crews would recognize them as recycle containers...
...but Republic's color scheme tends to emphasize blue.
Truck pic screengrabbed from here
This second question is mostly a matter of bemusement, of course. 

But seriously, why are the good citizens of League City poised to pay $30 million for trash services when it seems like they could be paying significantly less??  Imagine what could be done with the money that could be saved by streamlining the service to a once-per-week schedule - millions and millions of dollars, maybe a tiny bit of which could be instead spent on installing sidewalks...

A public meeting on this issue has reportedly been scheduled for November 8 (although those meetings aren't listed on the LC calendar yet).  If I find the time, I will go and ask exactly that question. 

Saturday, October 27, 2012

A well-oiled machine

A few words here on our local household hazardous waste collection event that is held periodically (annually??) in the immense parking lot at Gulf Greyhound Park, just so that you'll know what to expect if you ever decide to get rid of some of your nasty stuff there.

The Gulf Greyhound sign this morning, as seen beneath a beautiful mackerel sky inspired by yesterday evening's cold front, our first strong front of the season.
It's a very easy and quick process.  You drive into the main Gulf Greyhound entrance off FM 1764 and follow the volunteers' traffic directions.  They did a short questionnaire this morning, gathering statistics on what people were dropping off.  Then they had a line with a series of drop-off stations for appliances, e-waste, and toxic chemicals and petroleum products.
I had to drop off used automotive fluids that came out of an antique car my husband is restoring.  If you carry this stuff in your hatchback or trunk, it's a good idea to use some structure for secondary containment, just in case there are any drips or tip-overs.  Here I used a few empty plastic storage bins. 

This was the fluids collection area at Gulf Greyhound.  Good thing those guys were wearing Tyvek suits, because it was cold out, and I know from personal experience that nothing cuts the wind quite like Tyvek. 
They actually emptied my gas cans and gave them back to me, and so while I was waiting, I snapped a few pics of this truck in action as it was dropping off an empty waste bin. 
Up, up and away...
They don't call these things "roll-offs" for nothing.
At the entrance, they also handed out some general waste info, including a hard copy of a Houston Galveston Area Council brochure that looks like this:
Houston's own take on Rosie the Riveter.  No surprise that they're aiming the public outreach at women, eh?  Did you notice how I said my husband is restoring the antique car yet I (the wife) ended up being the one who delivered the wastes to Gulf Greyhound? 
We Can Do It... we can convince our husbands to clean up their garages... in theory.  But not always in practice.  Some of it we have to do ourselves.  Rosie screengrab from Wikipedia.   
Anyway, that's all there is to it.  It took me about 10 minutes from start of the line to finish.  No complexity to the process and no names were taken.  Just very efficient, like a well-oiled machine, literally and figuratively.  A well used-oiled machine to the tune of thousands of gallons, from the look of it. 

Replacing batteries in hard-wired smoke detectors

Now, don't any of y'all laugh at this next part.  Centerpointe Section 9 has an overabundance of first-time home buyers because its construction coincided with those very special federal tax credits intended to help alleviate some of the economic impacts of the Great Recession

(Incidentally, it amazes me that stories have not been written about how this tax break inspired one of the largest mass waves of "living in sin" cohabitation in American history, as innumerable young couples delayed marriage and instead used their carefully-saved wedding money as downpayments on their houses, but let me not digress.)

So a lot of first-time couples rushed not into marriage but into home-buying with perhaps less planning and due diligence than they might have under more normal circumstances. 

You can occasionally see one of the downstream residual effects of this when you walk into one of Section 9's now-2.5-year-old houses and hear a smoke detector chirping in some distant room.  Don't laugh, but not everybody knows how to deal with these things.  It's not been more than about a month now since I helped one such family to isolate the cause of their incessant chirps and remedy it.  2.5 years post-construction is just about the right amont of time needed for all those batteries to start going bad.  The neighborhood-wide chirp-a-thon is now beginning!! 

On November 4, Daylight Savings time will end and at that time, we'll all be bombarded with PSAs about replacing the batteries in our smoke detectors

The trouble with that is, owners of newer houses that have hard-wired smoke detectors (as opposed to the free-standing battery-operated kind) tend not to do it.  If, in their youthful innocence, they even realize that their detectors contain batteries at all, they'll snap to the realization that the batteries are simply there as back-up in case of power failures.  Given that power failures almost never occur, this battery-replacement task can lose a sense of urgency.

But all you will need to inspire you to take it seriously is one detector to start chirping like an auditory version of Chinese water torture at 3:00 a.m. and you'll never make that particular deferred maintenance mistake again.  They never start chirping at a convenient time like 6 p.m.  They always seem to wait until the dead of the night and then you're forced to stumble like a zombie into your garage to fetch a ladder in order to deal with it.  Not fun. 

They start chirping because, even though they run on household electricity, the newer models are designed to warn you with chirping when their back-up batteries run low.  So rather than having to get awakened in the middle of the night, here's what I suggest instead: replace the nasty little things now and enjoy your well-earned future period of uninterrupted sleep.  Here are some suggested common steps to accomplish the replacements, although you need to consult with your manufacturer's user manual for your particular smoke detector to be fully sure you're doing this correctly.  My short-hand tips are not a substitute for any manufacturer's instructions.  Your builder would have left that manual in your house along with every other appliance manual.  If you don't have one, look at the brand name of your units and contact the manufacturer. 
Every home built in the past few years is likely to have somewhere between six and twelve smoke detectors in it, and they're probably all hard-wired together.  Our house has seven: one in each bedroom and one in each hallway, no matter how short the hallway.  Building codes dictate the locations of these things and I'm not sure of the exact requirements, but generally those are the areas where you'll find them. 

So you're going to need to buy a big package of 9-volt batteries in most cases.  Here's a tip: take a Sharpie and write the date on each battery for future reference.  I use the YYYYMMDD format because that's the only truly date-sortable numerical representation for dates.  (A lot of scientific, computer programming, and technical workers are trained to use this format).

I don't recommend one battery brand over another.  Sam's Club sells this brand above in an 8-pack, which was convenient for us.
This is similar to what you're going to see in a modern smoke detector: the unit un-screws from the ceiling mount (you can gently hand-turn it like the lid of a jar until it releases - note the wires extending up into the ceiling - don't pull those loose from either the unit or the ceiling) and there's a little trap door that you can lift to see the battery underneath.  There's usually a plastic pull-tab to help you release the existing battery (such as this yellow one). 

IMPORTANT:  Make sure you note the orientation of the existing battery with respect to positive and negative battery poles (those nubs on top of the battery) so that you don't put the new battery in upside down.  If you make that mistake, there might not be an immediate way to tell, except that the smoke detector will start chirping all over again and you might not know if it's because your replacment battery is actually dead, or because the battery is simply upside-down in the unit. 
In many newer models, there's another little safety item which is apparently designed to prevent you from re-mounting the detector on the ceiling without first putting a new battery in it.  This red lever pops up and will prevent you from re-closing the trap door unless a battery is holding the lever down.  So in this example, the new battery has to go on top of both the yellow pull tab and on top of the red lever before the trap door can be properly closed.
In a perfect world, everyone would replace ALL of their smoke detector batteries in one fell swoop. 

In the real world, what often happens instead is that one of the danged things starts chirping, and the squeaky wheel gets the grease.  People often don't have a half-dozen or a dozen batteries on hand at once, so they might replace just one battery at a time... and then forget which detectors have newer batteries than others. 

Either that, or people may simply overlook one or two smoke detectors (there's more of them in the average house than most people realize) and then a few weeks after they thought that they have completed this replacement job, something again starts up with those exasperating dead-of-night chirps.

For this reason, I take a small piece of masking tape and write the date of battery exchange on it, and stick that on the outside of the unit, being careful not to cover up any of the little buttons or openings on the plastic case.  That way, if something starts making noise, I can start trouble-shooting by first going around the entire house and doing a visual inventory of the units from the ground without having to get a ladder and pull them one-by-one off the ceiling again. 

Someone will probably patent this very obvious and very useful date-incorporation idea and make a million bucks off it, but that someone will not be me. 
Remember, these statements above are just some tips that may or may not be appropriate for your brand and model of smoke detector - these comments and opinions are not intended to be a substitute for your manufacturer's operating instructions. 
These are the batteries that came out of the seven smoke detectors that Meritage installed in our house.  Note how their advisory wording discourages trash disposal because, although they are mercury-free, they do contain lead.  If possible, dispose of them at a household hazardous waste event like the one behing held today at Gulf Greyhound Park
Happy chirp-hunting.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Couch before and after

It's debatable as to whether or not you can call yourself a true Houstonian (<---great link, that one!) if you've never bought a piece of furniture from Jim McIngvale

The man whom Houston Press called a "bellowing freak" represents the American Dream on a Houston scale (he even has his own IMDB page, even though I don't think the obvious movie has been made just yet).  This piece quotes the now-defunct Houston Post as having described his cultural influence as follows:

There are some events in our life we never forget.  Our first kiss.  The day Elvis died.  The landing on the moon.  The first time we saw Jim "Mattress Mack" McIngvale jumping up and down in a Gallery Furniture television commercial, shaking a fist full of dollars and hollering something about "saving you moneeey".

I actually do remember the first time I ever saw Mattress Mack on TV.  Upon seeing his commercial, my exact first words were, "What the F&%$ just happened?!"

And I have consumed the proverbial Kool-Aid several times over my 20-odd year Houston tenure, mostly in the years before Mattress Mack started, shall we say, hitting a superior style stride, as the following example will demonstrate. 

I admit to having been completely suckered by his frequent 1990's bellowing sales pitch regarding Mayo furniture (or was that "Ma-Ma-Ma-MAYO FURNITURE!!!") as being particularly appropriate for "big and tall" people because of its extra-robust construction and resulting durability. 

None of us in my family are big or tall in any euphemistic senses of the words, but I was about six months pregnant when I bought our living room couch, and I wanted something that many children could jump on with impunity.  I have a general rule about furniture:  If you can't dance on it, it's not sufficiently durable, so don't bother to buy it.  I didn't ever want to find myself in the position of bellowing, "No jumping on the furniture!" when, in fact, that's something that kids are supposed to do.

So I bought this gigantic houseboat of a Mayo couch from Mack, except there was just one North Freeway-type problem:
It was uglier than sin even before they promised to "deliver it tonight".  How should we describe the particular esthetic represented by this cushion, anyway?  Jackson Pollock meets Native American knock-off?  This type of thing was in style for maybe five minutes during the year 1990 (or maybe it was 1989).  It was out of style years before Mack even offered this particular beauty for sale, so please don't think that I lived with the likes of this in my house for any amount of time.  I bought the couch because I liked the base upholstery color and knew that I would re-upholster all the back cushions immediately.  For this photo above, I had just stripped off my first-generation re-upholstery so I could show you this a-a-amazing original fabric that was still underneath it. 
More than a dozen years ago, I re-did the complete set of back cushions using upholstery that was high-end but fairly traditional in appearance.  Since that time, both my tastes and the current trends have favored more transitional to contemporary decor styles.  So last week when I re-did those cushions a second time, this was the result:
What initially drew me to this couch was the unusual green upholstery which was not that godawful hunter green that was also in style for five minutes during 1990, and neither was it really very teal.  It is an odd luminescent green that had strong aqua undertones.  I added this Pier 1 throw which has even more aqua...
...but what we really like the best is this contemporary fabric which now covers two of the four biggest back cushions.  It ties together every other color in our great room: the base fabric on the couch itself, the neutral floor tiles, the green grass outside the windows and - yes - the blues that echo provocatively down the newly-painted skylight...   
...such as this blue shade, for instance (from this post).
In every epic home design story, there has to come an element of heartbreak, however, and here's where mine arises: 

I had gotten that perfect piece of contemporary print upholstery at Garden Ridge Pottery in Webster at NASA 1 and IH-45 about six months to a year ago.  With our hectic family schedule, it took me a number of months to to actually find the time to sew these new cushion covers.  Before doing so, I said to myself, "I better check Garden Ridge one more time to see if they have gotten in any new stuff that I like even better." 

Alas, I arrived at Garden Ridge only to find it completely re-arranged (why do retailers do that?!), with the treasure trove of upholstery remnants nowhere to be found. 

Hands down, Garden Ridge offered the best upholstery remnants anywhere in Clear Lake.  It was high quality stuff, and most of it sold for an incredible six dollars per each two-yard piece.  If you know anything about upholstery, you know that the good quality material is extremely expensive.  That print piece I used on our couch would probably have originally sold in the range of $50 to $100 per yard.  I paid $6 for a two-yard remnant of it at Garden Ridge.  From a remnant stack that I can no longer find and that might have been discontinued.
Here is a screengrab from this site showing what I'm talking about.  We live in a society that runs on spin-doctored euphemisms, don't we??  I interpret "pre-cut" to mean "remnant".

In my opinion, most of the stuff in Garden Ridge is fairly useless low-end mass-produced merchandise (what I tend to call "Cheap Sh*t from China").  The fabric was one of the few things in the store that could actually be used to craft something of quality. 
Six whole dollars.  Together with the other two fabrics I used, I made-over our trusty ancient houseboat couch for less than fifty bucks (the only reason why the cost was even that high is that the dark grey fabric is a high-end coarse linen that was about $50 per yard... I obtained that stuff from Hancock on El Camino Real, not from Garden Ridge).  These couches with the loose pillows along the back... they are not the height of style anymore, but their look can be transformed literally for pocket change.  In this manner, they really can "SSSSAVE YOU MONEEEYYYYY!!"

Hopefully this remnant stack will turn up again somewhere in that behemoth store.  If not, maybe I'll chalk it up to being yet another casualty of a Houston-style heyday

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Where art meets tract

Continuing my established schizoid pattern of interspersing serious social commentary with sheer indulgence, let me pick up where I left off regarding Erma's Nutrition Center

On my most recent birthday, my mother-in-law ruthlessly foisted a bit of cash upon me, insisting that I spend it on something "for myself".  I'm not really known for doing that, as anyone can tell by looking at my five-year-old clothing (or is it ten??) and general lack of cosmetic application.  Hence the admonishment.

I settled upon a few ball ornaments sold at Erma's and made by Kitras Art Glass (you can't miss them upon going into the store - they hang all throughout the front portion of it, by the windows).  The idea being that the investment benefited not only myself but also a local small business owner as well as a worthy artist who, himself, is also running a small business.  I run a small business myself.  I patronize small businesses to the extent possible.
There's not much accessible detail on the Kitras website itself because they seem to sell only to retailers - not directly to the public.  But here is a collection of representative images screengrabbed from Google.
Here are a few pics of the ones I picked up the other day:
This is one of the "tree" style ones.  Note that it's SIX INCHES in diameter.  This is what makes these things different from other art glass balls I've seen.  They are large enough to really make a visual impact if properly used in a decor design.

Here's a close-up of the surface of that tree ball.  Really unique stuff.

This one is called "Van Glow".
Does it look oddly familiar?

It should, because its design is a darned creative nod to this masterpiece.
"Starry Night" by Vincent VanGogh, photo screengrabbed from Wikipedia.
I really enjoy art glass, but with children and a dog running through the house, I hadn't really envisioned a scenario in which I could realistically incorporate any into our decor.  However, my thinking began to change when I noticed this growing trend:

Glass ball chandeliers by Bocci, if the source reference is correct.
What's really neat about these is the way they add such dimension to what was formerly just a featureless void of empty space.  This is ART.  Art for the home.  Very creative. 
Those are absolutely stunning, but can you imagine hanging an array of those over the average suburban family's dinner table??  There would come a great head-knocking, like a three-dimensional snooker table in action, and glass shards would garnish the food.  Absolutely beautiful to have them in a chandelier like those pictures show, but not really a practical choice for the average human.

AH, but I've got a potential alternate space that might enchantingly house a collection of them.  A much safer space where butting heads can't reach and our dog's tossed tennis ball is not likely to impinge upon "Vincent Van Glow" or his friends:

Just because it's a tract home doesn't mean that it has to look like one.  What if I could suspend a cascade of these things up inside this enormous and now-enchanting skylight shaft?
This is the reason why I finally got around to writing the skylight post about six months after completing it.  I needed it as a prerequisite to this present post. 

I don't know if this waterfall-of-art-glass idea will work well.  It might turn out to be one of those things that sounds good in theory but doesn't work visually.  The resonant blue of the shaft might mute out the colors of the balls to the point of making it underwhelming.  But when I get a chance, I'm going to start experimenting with it.  And if it doesn't work, I'll hang the things in a window.  It's a win either way. 

My Gyokuro is all consumed by this time, so I must get to work.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Red light re-re-visited

Following up on this post, and I'm too brain dead after a day of meetings to do maximum justice to this but let me take a stab at it anyway... Galveston County Daily News responded to my pleading in that post (and to their own initiative) by writing this summary piece about the cameras.

In trying to wrap my head around this issue from as many different perspectives as possible, here's a quick and dirty spreadsheet that I derived (and my apologies to GCDN if they have already done something of this type - I don't see the hard copy newspaper, only the online version, so they may have more analysis and graphics available in hard copy - I don't know):
Let's not bother quibbling over the numbers. 
Just contemplate the general principles that they hint at.
Taken at face value, these three controversial little cameras appear to be doing the following:
  1. Reducing crashes. 
  2. Saving money for innocent victims who are not responsible for their involvement in crashes (according to at least one source that I neglected to bookmark, about 50% of the costs of intersection crashes are borne by people who committed no wrong).
  3. Imposing financial penalties on those who break the law by running red lights.
  4. Smelling like something similar to a tax, but not a particularly grotesque or unfair one; in fact, the more I look at it, the fairer it looks to me.  My purpose in estimating that multiplier was to see if some of the hyped accusations of money-grabbing panned out when examined in absolute financial terms.  Any time the government institutes a policy that takes more money from the public than it saves via correspondingly-avoided costs, it's worth examining.  It's probably costing the public about four times as much to deploy this program as it is saving, BUT, the program as I understand it was never intended to save money as a primary purpose - it was intended to penalize law-breakers, and any savings to society were gravy on top of that.  Four doesn't strike me as a particularly worrisome enforcement multiplier, especially compared to other existing enforcement precedents (sorry I'm too tired to URL this post very heavily). 
Remember: the people bearing the burden of this thing that smells a bit like a tax do not include all of us.  The only include the ones who run red lights.  I personally find that I can live with that. 

I don't find the "Big Brother Is Watching" argument against these cameras to be compelling at all.  It strikes me as being a red herring. This is 2012, for crying out loud.  How many of the Big Brother complainants have HCTRA tags voluntarily stuck on their windshields?  I'm betting a lot of them do.  Do these people not realize that HCTRA tracks their every freeway move on a continual basis?  How else do they suppose these magic maps get produced?

It's a mess out there right now, as usual.
Screengrabbed from this site.
This system will track your automotive movements in a way that red light camera vendors and their client municipalities could never dream of.
My point is, I bet HCTRA could theoretically charge you with speeding for passing through two toll points more quickly than is physically possible at prevailing speed limits.  The notion that red light cameras represent something new and unprecedented and some potentially dangerous invasion of privacy just doesn't hold water with me.  Yoo-hoo - we were already there long before red light cameras.

And speaking of privacy, no red light camera could ever hold a privacy-invasion candle to the likes of this:
This is the approximate comparable level of detail that the Transportation Security Agency (TSA) sees when they put you into one of those new body scanners at the airport.  Don't click this link unless you really want to know whether the man in the example TSA image was circumcised or not. 

Faced with submitting to either a real-life digital analog to this or a genital grope, who would bother worry about red light cameras?!  I see far bigger fish to fry here.

Statue of David by Michelangelo, as screengrabbed from Wikipedia.
Talk about penny-wise-pound-foolish on the privacy-invasion issue.  My NSHO is this: if you don't like red light cameras, power to you.  Please feel free to direct your protest energies at the TSA's ongoing vulgar denial of basic dignity instead of at the League City ballot, and maybe take a different roadway home next time if you feel compelled to run a red light with impunity.  Just my opinion. 

Remember, this is a bit confusing (by some accounts): a vote against the proposition allows future renewals of the monitoring contract.  So a vote against the proposition is essentially a vote in favor of potentially keeping the cameras, which is a vote in favor of people who break the law paying a fine that smells a bit like an extra tax that the rest of us don't have to worry about paying (to my way of thinking).