Monday, September 30, 2013


Tomorrow is the annual National Night Out (NNO) get-together which is really quite a big deal in Centerpointe.
This is a tap-able reproduction of the POA announcement.  Screengrabbed from this site
That NNOtice doesn't say what time it starts, although it mentions a prize drawing at 8 p.m. (LCPD says it's 6 pm - 9 pm). 

Unfortunately, as is the general way of life in suburbia, there are also some "mission critical" meetings happening at Clear Creek High School tomorrow evening, and so I may not make it.  But I highly recommend it for the people-chatting even if you're not much into a carnival atmosphere.  A lot of interesting folks live in Centerpointe, and I've never failed to meet new ones at previous NNO events. 

How to fix a granite countertop seam

Answer (in my opinion):  Hire a professional granite installer to do the job for you.  There's no way to DIY this kind of thing properly because it requires specialized tools and skills, and you could really screw up your expensive countertop if you make a mistake.

Here's how it went with our repair, and also an explanation of why we needed to repair our countertop in the first place.
This is the edge of our cooktop cut-out, which were also having trimmed at the same time as the seam was being fixed (mobilizing a service person is so expensive that we figured we might as well get everything done at once). 

When we built this house, we chose "five-quarter" (1.25" or five quarters of an inch) granite instead of the builder grade of granite, which is typically 0.75" thick.  It looks wonderful but it's bloody heavy. 
We have one seam in our countertop, which is comprised of one nine-foot and one six-foot span of granite in an L-shape.  That's an awful lot of granite to be meeting near the middle and staying put.  A lot of heavy granite, especially given the extra thickness that we paid for as an upgrade.  What I think happened is that the supportive under-cabinetry simply settled a little over the past three years (the wood grain compacted or whatever).  It wasn't much, but it was enough to move the two slabs differentially just a tiny bit, and destroy the original granite seam.
BEFORE:  It was gross.  The putty totally disintegrated and fell out.  Worse, the two sides of granite were no longer in plane.  One side was a tiny bit higher than the other, enough to serve as a "lip" and make cleaning impossible.  Water and food fell down into the open crack.  Sanitary fail. 
This is why a professional is needed.  In order to do this job right, it's not just a matter of mixing up a two-part epoxy and re-packing the seam.  The two pieces of granite must be planed so that they are put back to being a continuous uninterrupted smooth surface.  This picture is blurry because it's a long exposure (I didn't want the camera flash to go off in the tradesman's face), but this is a coarse diamond wheel he was using here in the first stage of grinding the area flat.   

This takes a long time and a lot of careful work with successively finer polishing grits.  Remember, after the two sides of the granite are ground down to the same height again, they will look like raw rock with a very dull, pitted surface.  The re-polishing is required to return the seam area to an appearance that matches the rest of the countertop.
AFTER:  Here's a close-up of the final result.  Yes, a seam is visible, but everything is sealed and back in plane and it doesn't look conspicuous from a distance.  Hopefully now that the cabinetry has had three years to settle, it's done moving and I won't have to re-do this seam again in the future (hopefully). 
We hired DE Flooring (no active website right now), which is located less than a mile from our subdivision in League City.  They sent a very nice tradesman over to do the work. 

Listing screengrabbed from Google.
It took the tradesman at least 90 minutes at our house to fix this seam and also to trim the original opening in the granite that had been cut for our cooktop (to be discussed in a future post).  DE Flooring charged me $300 for this service call, plus I always give a decent tip to service people (I was a service worker myself once upon a time).  Obviously this is not cheap, but again, in my opinion there's just no other way to get this kind of work done.  Suck it up, bubbas!!  Open your wallets and hire a professional if granite-grinding is what you need done. 

If I have experienced this seam separation problem, it's possible that other homeowners in Centerpointe have also faced the same issue, because the same building materials and tradesmen were used in many, many of our houses.  If you want to get your counter seam re-done, you might want to call DE and ask for the same tradesman they sent to my house (ask to speak to Mr. Abdul and describe the work - he'll remember the job, and if he doesn't, tell him that it was one of his Sept. 28, 2013 receivables).  I didn't get that contractor's name, but he's a really nice guy and he did good work for us. 
Hopefully this post saves at least one marriage.  Don't screw yourself - granite fixing is not on the honey-do list, she opined. 

Sunday, September 29, 2013

The new Google ground views are up

Almost four months ago (June 5, 2013 to be exact), I told a Google-chasing tale which I can now substantiate, because Google has finally posted up the revised views of Centerpointe. 
Woot!!  Centerpointe Section 9 must now truly exist in the universe because, after 3.5 years of it looking like the empty field it used to be, it finally has its own ground view!  Willow Pointe looking southeast toward Walker Commons

Most images in this post courtesy of Google. 
It was such a pretty day for a photo op, wasn't it??  All those cottony clouds and everyone's lawn was in good shape.
Unfortunately it was also recycling day, so there's a fair amount of crap at our collective curbs. 
There's the children's fort on the vacant land near the southwest corner of Arlington Pointe. 
And there's your blurry blogger in hot pursuit of the Googlemobile as it headed northward up Calder, as I was taking the pics for my June 5 post
Blurryness notwithstanding, when I finally got to see myself thusly, what came to mind was John de Lancie in the Star Trek TNG episode titled "Deja Q" when he exclaims, "I'm immortal again!  Omnipotent again!"
Would you believe someone actually tabulates all these rather obscure quotes? 
Yeah, I know what you're thinking:  Having your image frozen in Google ground view doesn't exactly make you either of those things.  But in internet terms, it does - I have indeed been immortalized thusly.  That sequence of images will probably last at least five years.

So go ahead - don't let me hold you up.  Go check out your own house as it now appears in Google ground view, and make sure there wasn't anything embarrassing in your recycle bin that day while you're at it.  Because Google's photo resolution is so good now, you know, that a lot of stuff is visible that would not have been previously.  Can you imagine all the FUN we could have had if we'd known in advance that the Googlemobile was coming??  There are all kinds of interesting objects I would have inserted into my neighbors' recycle bins.  A little adult literature here, maybe a cardboard box from a relaxing therapeutic device there...  yuk!!
Unlike de Lancie's famous and fun character, my pranks are necessarily limited to just one planet.  And mostly one subdivision on that planet. 

Screengrabbed from an amateur Q tribute vid set to "My Angel Put The Devil In Me"

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Cycling conundrum continues

Almost a year ago, I published a post called "The untold story of Dickinson Road". 
Here's a screengrab so that you don't have to load the URL. 
It's very dangerous because it's impossibly narrow, as you can see above.  And yet at the same time, it represents one the of the really good "straight shots" we have in League City, and thus has an irresistible allure for cyclists. 
Thursday evening around 5:45 p.m., I came upon these cyclists on Dickinson Road.  Pelotoning on one of the narrowest roads in League City and during rush hour to boot. 
 I snapped that fuzzy foto with my phone because I wanted to post it and say, "Aw, jeez, guys - don't do this.  Not on Dickinson Road.  Not during rush hour.  There are already two highway crosses just on this one stretch.  How many more would you like to see added?!"

And then less than two hours after I took that pic, a cyclist was hit by a truck in west League City (paywalled URL).   The newspaper reported that he was taken to the hospital with a head injury, which doesn't sound good. 

We are in late September, when the weather gets cooler and cyclists amp up their activity.  There are numerous bike fests coming up, including Bike Around the Bay in about two weeks, an event which is soaring in popularity. 

And people need to practice for these things.  The trouble is, there are no good places to practice around here.  In "The untold story of Dickinson Road", I talked about an allegation from local cyclists that the only relatively safe cycling spot in the League City area had been the interstate highway service road (feeder) between Dickinson and LaMarque.  But that was a couple of years ago, and in the intervening time, the Tanger Outlets were built, which substantially increased traffic on that segment.  Now they're left with basically nothing. 

Maybe someday we'll improve our development to incorporate something akin to complete streets.  Until that time, watch out for cyclists, motorcyclists, and pedestrians.  Especially when the weather turns cooler and more people are outside. 
In May of this year, Houston became the largest city in Texas to adopt a safe passing ordinance.  They did so by unanimous vote and as an  emergency measure, meaning it went into effect immediately. 

These types of laws are a nice start, but the obvious problem still remains:  most of our streets are simply not designed for multiple users.  They're designed for cars alone.

Graphic screengrabbed from this Houston Tomorrow post
League City could write analogous ordinances until it was blue in the face, but it wouldn't change the fact that Dickinson Road is not much wider than my outstretched arms.  Or that the IH-45 feeder is curbed with no shoulders that cyclists could hug while in traffic.  If someone in a motor vehicle tried to give a peloton a 3-foot berth on the Dickinson Road stretch shown above, I think they'd end up in the ditch. 

Image from Google Maps ground view.   
Screengrabbed from here.
Public outreach graphic from the state of Connecticut, which also has a 3-foot regulation. 
Ten people killed just within spittin' distance of Centerpointe and just between the years 2001 and 2009.  Ten vulnerable road users (cyclists, motorcyclists, and pedestrians). 

Screengrabbed from this site
Friend of a friend killed while in a peloton in 2003, not far from Centerpointe. 

Friday, September 27, 2013

Houston anti-hype

For a number of years after I first moved to Houston, I didn't know any better and I listened to people when they told me not to go outside. 

Houston was where people moved for a low cost of living and great jobs, but that was all it had to recommend it, they said.  Houston was hot.  Humid.  Full of mosquitoes.  They'd give you diseases like St. Louis encephalitis.  Howard Hughes famously said of Houston, "the whole place is just pestilential swamp" and he didn't even live long enough to really see invasive fire ants hit their peak, let alone crazy Rasberry ants"Stay indoors," many people said.  "Work hard and then use your savings to fly to a better place if you want to go outside." 

For a number of years, I drank that Kool-Aid.  But then as I got older and wiser, I realized that the people who deferred to Howard Hughes's conclusion had neglected to qualify his quote by noting that he had OCD.  I also learned that, unless we're at the absolute peak of a mosquito hatch-out (which only happens a few times a year), it's simply worth going outside.  Here are a few pics of what I'd be missing these days if I didn't at least step out into my own back yard.
Might as well put the most outrageous flower first:  Hibiscus.
The two bell peppers I added to last night's spaghetti sauce.  We call this intense color "radioactive green", except it's fully natural, the color that properly-grown bell peppers are supposed to exhibit (the photo is not color-enhanced). 
Okra blossom. 
Yet another anole. 
I forget the name of this stuff, but it makes a really cool container plant. 
Mint from the herb garden.  Them's good eatin'. 
Bark shedding from a crape myrtle (unmurdered). 
"Lizard porn!" my teenager snorted and guffawed when she saw this photo.  This is why we have so many anoles in our garden.   
Bat-faced cuphea, in abstractia, sort of. 
Sweet potato vine in recent rain. 
Parent and child cuddled up next to a garden hose on a stacked-stone landscaping wall
Newly-planted collards with yesterday morning's dew.  Local grocery stores be damned
The sky over Centerpointe Drive yesterday evening at 6:35 p.m.  Did you notice it as you were driving home from your high-paying Houston job??  Or at that point were you still thinking that there was nothing wonderful to experience outdoors in greater Houston??

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Gas meter remote readers being installed

Just FYI, you might see a Centerpoint (not Centerpointe) worker in your yard today.  Reportedly, they are installing devices to read our gas meters remotely.  I hadn't heard anything about this, but I'm often the last to know.
But between my dog alarm and our security cameras, I can usually find out what's going on in real time, at least. 

A problem we don't have - yet

...and I've wondered why not. A few days ago, Galveston County Daily News posted a story about the ever-increasing problem of feral hogs in Texas, and while I've seen feral hogs just about everywhere else around greater Houston, I haven't seen them anywhere in north Galveston County.  And I've wondered why not. 
Feral hogs are domesticated pigs that got loose and reverted to a wild state.  They are an enormous problem in Texas and only getting worse.

Screengrabbed from Wikipedia
South Galveston County, absolutely yes, I've seen them there.  Twenty years ago, the intensity of feral hog damage on Pelican Island had to be seen to be believed.  Large swaths of soil turned over as if by a factory-farm-grade roto-tiller.  At the time, I remember wondering where on earth they could possibly be hiding during daylight hours (they're nocturnal), because there really wasn't much on Pelican Island in the way of high scrub or forestation. 

And they are well-established on the north side of Clear Lake.  Let me give you a vivid example.  About ten years ago, a huge engineering mistake was made on the extension of Space Center Boulevard from Clear Lake City Boulevard to Genoa Red Bluff. 
I'm screengrabbing from this Chron article because it's so old that it will surely fall victim to link rot before too much longer.
Basically what happened is that they screwed up and built Space Center Boulevard at an unacceptably-low elevation.  They had to go back and rip the entire thing up, raise it, and re-lay it. 
Consummate Clear Laker that I am, I still have a souvenir chunk of the original Space Center Boulevard, not the one that people drive on today.  Here you can see a piece of virgin concrete with the characteristic textured top.  But observe the unusual bright white radiance - no public tire ever touched this driving surface. 

You might think I'm an absolute nerd for keeping this, but I bet if I put it on eBay, I would do well, because it's a piece of local lore literally in mint condition.  There's a small but passionate group of Clear Lakers who take their Clear Lakeness very seriously.  Maybe one day I'll donate it to an auction to raise money for a charity. 
While Harris County got all that engineering and construction business sorted out and fixed, a perfectly good four-lane concrete arterial sat there closed to traffic for the better part of a year!  Well, it became pure Nirvana to north Clear Lakers.  We used it for jogging, hiking, walking, cycling, dog-training, roller-blading, you name it - I would even see families bringing picnics and basking on the expanse of vacant pavement.  Parents would take their young children there to teach them how to ride two-wheelers - on weekends it was more fun than Kemah.  The temporarily-abandoned and faulty Space Center Boulevard became the best recreational area that Clear Lake ever had, and possibly will ever have.

There was just one problem with our provisional paradise: It was chock full of feral hogs, which would routinely scare the bejesus out of us with their stubby-legged but surprisingly-efficient galloping (and those giant piggie hooves would make the most ominous clattering sound as they raced across that virgin concrete roadway).  Their galloping and their snorting and their general obnoxiousness.  Feral hogs are generally aren't aggressive toward people, but having spent a bit of time in west Texas, I tend to treat them like javelinas, for which the general rules of thumb are (1) just stay away from them, and (2) if you have a dog with you, run for your lives, because dogs will bring out the worst of their aggression. 

And yet even with all the utility-walking I've done, I've never seen one around here.
The fact that we are a dense suburban area is no bar to feral hogs.  Here's an invasion story published just within the past 24 hours. 
I don't know why this is.  I don't know what's keeping them at bay in this area, because conditions are favorable for an invasion.  They have their own hog superhighway in the form of the Interurban easement, and all those dry-bottom retention ponds scattered around this area would be pig-rooting heaven. 

And yet they are conspicuous by their absence.  I guess this will simply remain a mystery for the time being. 
This little piggy didn't go to market - instead, it got loose and created 2.6 million more little piggies in Texas alone.  Look at the tusks on those things and you'll realize even more why we wouldn't want them around. 

In deep east Texas, I've heard that people trap them and castrate the young males, notching their ears before turning them loose again.  That way, future hunters can look at the ears and realize that they're seeing an animal worth eating (males with active testosterone are said to be too tough and gamey).  An interesting and efficient practice of pig-pay-it-forward. 

Image screengrabbed from this source

Wednesday, September 25, 2013


I'vE rEquestEd both via Email and commEnt that it bE corrEctEd in thE E-vErsion, although thE frontpagE itsElf is obviously a lost causE:
Low-resolution screengrab of today's front page, Galveston County Daily News.  Look at the article in the lower right hand corner. 
Yes, that article refers to us, but you wouldn't think so from simply reading the title.  It sounds like homeowners in Centerpoint's service area are getting some kind of a tax break, which might make a lot of readers unrealistically joyful until they discover the actual truth of the matter. 
This is not us.  This is not related to us.  We have nothing whatsoever to do with this corporate entity

Screengrabbed from Centerpoint's homepage. 
There is an "E" on the end of Centerpointe.  EEEeeeeeee!!!  I've noted on previous occasions what a pain in the rear end this name similarity is.  It causes routine confusion on a variety of matters.  If nothing else, maybe today's article will serve to raise awareness of the fact that we are a distinct legally-defined and unrelated entity, not some spin-off of a utility corporation analogous to what Exxon did in creating Friendswood Development Company

And oh - the article itself refers to a tax refinancing deal that may lower our PID payments.  More on that later.

Centerpointe drainage, Part 2

Going back to the POA email blast from August 31, and following up on my initial post of September 5, I'm going to expound on the advisory issued by the POA regarding our subdivision sewage system. 

That may not seem like a very delectable blog topic to you, but in the event of a sewage system failure, trust me - you are going to become really interested in how it functions, really quickly.  In fact, at any such future point where you've been forced to live without a toilet for X amount of time, it would become your ONLY topic of concern (lack of a/c would be a distant second). 

Before I start, remember, I am not an engineer and I am not a POA member and this blog is not an instrument of the POA.  But I can take the POA's information and attempt to translate it using pictures so that it's easier for non-technical residents to understand, which is what I'm going to do here.  Because when people understand underlying issues, they tend to make more appropriate behavioral decisions. 

So let's start with what was emailed on August 31, emphasis mine: 

Also good to note is that in the event of power loss - our sewer/waste lift/pump station will not pump waste out of the sewer lines. Thus as I mentioned above- the [sewage] that was flowing to the lift station will now flow back to Cypress/White Oak Pointes. If we [lose] power for any extended amount of time - residents are urged not only by the city and county to fill your bathtubs for cooking needs and refrain from flushing your toilets until instructed to do so, but I would think that all neighbors EAST of Lilac Pointe would insist on it!

OK, it doesn't get more ominous-sounding than that, but what the heck does it all mean?!

SHORT VERSION:  We're all in this subdivision thing together.  If you receive a text or email blast instructing you not to generate wastewater during any particular emergency situation, take it very seriously because they're not kidding.  Even if we still have good water pressure, we might not have sewage transfer capability, because the two are not directly related.  Don't assume that just because we have one, we also have the other. 

LONG VERSION:  In order to begin understanding sewage management, all you need to do is remember that immortal adage, "Sh*t rolls downhill."  That's what's happening from each of your houses and the rest of what happens is mostly a consequence of that. 

Let's start from the very beginning, because many residents didn't witness the construction of their own houses, and of those who did, many didn't understand what they were seeing.
Inside your slab are numerous PVC lines which connect your sinks, showers, and toilets to the sewer service line which leads from your house.  This is a picture of an early phase of construction where the lines have been laid but the concrete slab is not yet poured.  The tradesmen put temporary caps on all the lines so that they could test for water-tightness and also so that no soil would get accidentally pushed into the open ends. 
Somebody correct me if I'm wrong, but I suspect that all adjacent pairs of houses share sewer clean-out lines in Centerpointe, rather than each house having its own clean-out.  The sewer clean-out is that baby blue pipe in the center (that particular one got busted by a backhoe and had to be replaced before this area was backfilled).  You can see white lines leading from each house and converging where this vertical pipe is situated. 
This is what the finished, capped sewer clean-out line looks like in your front yard.  Many people paint them brown or green so that they will be less noticeable. 
And this is a simplified diagram showing the corresponding line arrangement.  In this example, the house has a basement, so the clean-out is situated in the basement rather than in its front yard. 

Notice that the sewer service line from the house connects to a sewer main under the street.  That "sewer main" is actually a "gravity sewer".  It is sloped to drain passively toward a piece of wastewater management infrastructure called a "lift station". 

In other words, stuff really does roll downhill.  There is no mechanical apparatus that pumps sewage away from your home.  It simply follows the engineered slope downward.  And if there's a slope, there must be a lowest point somewhere in the general equation.  That point would be the lift station. 
This is not a diagram of Centerpointe - I don't have one specific to our subdivision.  But this is an example of a residential area where you can see gravity sewers in green, and they are engineered to drain toward a lift station.

To my knowledge, Centerpointe has only one lift station.  It looks like this:
It's near Centerpointe Drive and the eastern Boxelder cul-de-sac.  There's not much to see above ground because the guts of it are in a deep shaft. 

Screengrabbed from Googlemaps. 
This is approximately what the inside of the deep shaft looks like.  All of those gravity sewers feed into mains which, in turn, feed into a deep concrete-lined hole like this.  It has to be deep because Centerpointe is about one mile across.  Obviously if individual sewer mains are gravity-draining by virtue of their slopes, by the time they get all the way from (for instance) Azalea Pointe near Calder to the lift station, their slope trajectories have put them far underground. 

But a deep line is not necessary to convey all that collected waste material to the League City wastewater treatment plant, and deep lines are expensive to construct, so at that point, the waste is "lifted" by a pump back up to what's called a "force main" which is situated at a shallower depth (the white pipe exiting to the right in the diagram above).  The flow in a force main is via mechanical transfer, thus the word "force" to distinguish it from "gravity".  The sewage travels in the force main to its eventual destination which is the treatment plant. 
So now you can start to visualize what the POA was talking about regarding the issue of a possible power failure due to hurricane or whatever.  The wastewater from 438 homes collects in this lift station.  If there's no power to run the pump that is necessary for it to continue on its way, that deep shaft might entirely fill up with untreated sewage.  If the level rises too high, it will start back-flowing up the gravity mains, because it has to go somewhere.  And if it completely fills any given gravity main, then it's got no choice but to back up into individual service lines.  And then this might happen: 
Scenes like this are rare but absolutely devastating, obviously.  This is backed-up sewage spewing forth from a commode.  When stuff is blocked from rolling downhill, it will enthusiastically start rolling uphill

The reason why it's so actively flowing in this example is probably because other users in the system are still trying to add wastewater to the gravity sewer system, not realizing that it can no longer physically accept any more wastewater. 

Screengrabbed from this source
If I'm understanding correctly, the POA was calling attention to the fact that some areas of Centerpointe are lower in relative elevation than other areas.  So some areas might be more susceptible to the consequences of a system failure.  If I'm understanding correctly, this is what prompted the comment  "...refrain from flushing your toilets until instructed to do so, but I would think that all neighbors EAST of Lilac Pointe would insist on it." 

From this, I interpret that people east of Lilac Pointe might be more at risk of getting the proverbial sh*tty end of the stick in more than just the idiomatic sense. 

There are two pieces of good news in all of this:
  1. Toilets ejecting raw sewage upward with a force exceeding 1G are not, I repeat NOT, in the interest of public health, and governments know it.  Recent hurricanes including Ike and Dolly five years ago underscored the need for emergency generators to supply power at lift stations, after stories like this one became common (here's another reference).  These days, wastewater operators need to keep emergency generators on hand for the duration of hurricane season in order to prevent exactly that type of septic scenario depicted above.  I don't know how those rules affect League City, but I assume that the city is subject to some requirements of this type.  This is good news but it is also a contingency we can't absolutely rely on.  Emergency generators need fuel, and we know what happened to the fuel supply chain during Hurricane Rita (for those of you who weren't here, it collapsed).
  2. Yesterday was SciGuy Day, the September calendar date after which the chances of a hurricane become very low for the upper Texas coast.  Hurricane season doesn't officially end until November 30, but prevailing autumn weather patterns tend to be very protective of our area after September 24 (that's certainly the date after which I begin re-stocking my mega-freezer, which we "eat down" over the summer in case we get a hurricane that kills electricity and thus ruins its very expensive home-made organic contents).  So if there ever comes a point where I need to refer you back to this post so that you can review why you shouldn't flush your commode, it almost certainly won't be until a future year (whew!).
Until that day, happy flushing!!

Screengrabbed from this source. 
I can't seem to embed this, but here's a link to this video from KPRC and a screengrab from it below if you'd like more info on the significance of the September 24 date.