My nerd trophies

When I attended Groves Middle School (PNGISD), I competed in mathematical tournaments sponsored by the Texas Math and Science Coaches Association and local schools. The pinnacle was Texas’s University Scholastic League‘s Elementary and Junior High Academics competition.

My specialty was Calculator Applications. The test’s 80 questions’ difficulties progressed through high school-level problems. Most problems were complicated arithmetic, but 2 out of every 10 questions were word problems.

My “secret” was I could rapidly translate the arithmetic into a series of keystrokes on my TI-60 calculator. I mastered the exact position of its buttons and its order of operations. I also has to use scientific notation as only three significant digits were usually allowed.

Another secret is my TI-60’s slight warp, possibly because of pocket storage. It wobbled while I slammed keys, distracting other students with its rhythmic rapping on the table. Some of these students were already distracted just seeing me work in hyper-spaz mode.

The last few word problems always gave me trouble. I could easily do arithmetic-style problems like finding the cosine of (34+41.6)/23. But if asked the local angle given the adjacent and hypotenuse of a right triangle, I could not figure it out.

One time my father sat me down at our Groves, TX dining room table and tried to teach me these geometric concepts. My 6th grade mind neither “got” nor was interested in those high school concepts.

Once I got all the way through the test, I would return to the beginning and rework problems.

I always did well at the local practice and TMSCA events. In fact, I was first place in the entire state for TMSCA Calculator Applications in 6th grade in 1989. I spanked the competition at a local TMSCA tournament. All local tournament first place winners’ tests got mailed to the state office which then compared winners to determine state titles. I remember being shocked when the Groves Middle School science teacher (whose name I cannot remember–never took her class) broke the news.

I never did as well at UIL events. At regional UIL tournaments in Dayton, sharp kids from the Houston area–I think Pearland?–edged me out.

I sometimes tried Number Sense and Science tests. I did reasonably well at Science but was not state-caliber. I did poorly at Number Sense, which is where you do challenging mental arithmetic without calculator assistance and without writing anything except an answer. You were encouraged to use a pen on Number Sense because you were not allowed to erase or write anything but the correct answer. I liked calculators; why bother with the silly mental arithmetic? (I still say the same despite having a mathematics degree!)

Why did I write this article? It’s time for the trophies to go. They are taking up valuable closet space and haven’t seen daylight in 8½ years. I took pictures of all trophies individually, pried off the plaques, and placed the plaques them on a sheet of paper for long-term keeping.

Amazing electrical work in Amory, Mississippi

We stopped in Amory, MS during a post-Christmas family trip. While there, I saw amazing electrical work. Amazing as in, “How do they get away with this?”

The city’s main square was festooned with electric Christmas lights. These lights are fed from the square’s northeast side:

Look more closely:

This bird’s nest of wires is a safety nightmare of Romex, wire nuts, and electrical tape. Wire nuts and electrical tape are only to be used within small enclosures, like junction boxes. Romex is only used in dry, indoor areas where humans aren’t (attics, between walls, subfloors, etc.).

This stuff is in the open!

It gets worse. See the white wire running down the pole? That’s Romex running to the ground! And running along the ground to trees and other displays!

For example:

And along the ground, you see dandies like exposed wire nuts:

Sometimes they’re nice enough to cover it up with electrical tape:

But sometimes they don’t use electrical tape and leave off a wire nut!

Here the Romex terminates at a plug in outlet on a metal fence near their Frisco steam engine:

Sometimes they just left these outlets on the ground. No electrical tape, either:

I was shocked that a city of this size would allow such amateurish, shoddy electrical work in a pedestrian area.

A little ceiling progress

I worked on the room with the collapsed ceiling today.

Here’s where I started:

After 5.75 hours of cleaning, here’s where I ended up:

Of course, there is no ceiling, so the insulation dust from the rest of the attic can still waft into the room. I still have to keep it sealed off from the rest of the house.

A helpful neighbor let me borrow his scoop shovel. I spent most the time just scooping all the insulation and sheetrock fragments into bags. This is the shovel on our couch:

The larger pieces of sheetrock are in three stacks.

About 20% of the ceiling was left. I knocked almost all of it down. It was behind the fan:

Here’s attic insulation where it belongs: on top of the remaining ceiling:

Even though our dining room table looks OK, it turns out the top layer is an imprint, so it’s not refurbishable:

If the table can be buffed, it may be salvageable. Otherwise, if it’s nicked and gouged, it’s not fixable.

I stuffed 28 42-gallon contractor bags:

It’ll take a while to get rid of those!

This roof vent’s squeaking is driving my wife nuts:

Without the ceiling and insulation, its squeaking is loud.

You may be wondering, “Aren, why are you doing this when the insurance company is paying to fix this?”

It turns out that the insurance company is cutting me a check for about 70% of its assessment of repairs. If I spend less than 70%, I can pocket the difference. The gap between 70% and 80% is my deductible, so I would pay that out of pocket. If I spend between 80% and 100%, the part they call “recoverable depreciation,” the insurance company will refund me for that part.

Ironically, this cost structure gives me incentive to hold the costs down for the insurer. If they had a rule whereby I had to hire a contractor, it’s likely they would spend all of the “recoverable depreciation” and then some.

I’ve run some numbers, and I think I can probably get the whole job done for around 35%-50% of estimated costs if I do it mostly myself and hire a handyman to help. That means I could pocket 20%-35% of the total estimated costs and in fact pay no deductible.

If I do end up going with a contractor, then all this cleaning is for naught. But at least I have the peace of mind of knowing the room is somewhat clean!

Ceiling collapse update

More updates on the ceiling collapse.


The ceiling collapse culprit may be more complicated than the short nails.

The house’s attic gable vents are above the den and the master bedroom. Coincidentally, the den’s ceiling collapsed, and the master bedroom has a slight ceiling sag. The insurance estimator theorized that some wind-driven high attic pressure plus the weight of the insulation plus improper nails may have caused the collapse. [EDIT: This is also the working theory behind a ceiling failure in a separate room in 2019!]

The insurance estimator noticed a master bedroom ceiling sag, so he recommended that the insurance fix this by driving drywall screws into it and scraping and retexturing.


Today is the 7th day we’ve had no den and dining room. We are lucky since our house is still livable and functional.

The biggest inconvenience is losing 400 square feet.

The second biggest inconvenience is my skittishness about the plastic sheeting closing off the disaster area.

The closed room has three vents. Even though I shut them off, enough air leaks through to increase pressure in that room, causing the plastic sheeting to balloon out when the heater runs.

I have the sheeting held in place by 3″-4″ of that blue paint-safe tape, but I’m constantly afraid it will stop adhering and open up. If the heat turns on while it opens up, it will blow the insulation-laden air into the rest of the house.

In an abundance of caution, I turn the heat off when we leave and at night. My wife just loves those freezing cold mornings! :-)

The nice thing is if I open a window while the heater runs, the pressure differential sucks fresh air into the house. That’s a nice way to inject fresh air into this place!

No TV!

Our TV is sitting in the hallway–the ceiling collapsed while I rescued it–but the only cable connectors are in the den. (Shortly after moving in, I removed the cable connections from the other bedrooms–I feel very strongly against having TVs in bedrooms). Therefore, we’ve had no TV for a whole week. I love it! Can we have no TV forever? Please?

Some day I’ll write why I hate many TV programs.


I hope to hear some kind of dollar amount from the adjuster early this week. The estimator made a mistake–ordered different resurfacing treatments for different parts of the wood floor of the closed off room–so that plus some other issues have been holding up the adjuster’s offer.

New Furniture

The inspector said our couch, love seat, dining room table set, and some less significant items are total losses. Apparently, it’s impossible to get the fine Rockwool particles out of the couches, and the cost of resurfacing the dining room table and its chairs exceeds the cost of a new set.

I am so glad I opted for the personal property replacement value coverage. The insurance company will cut me a check for these items’ depreciated values (i.e., garage sale values). Because of this extended coverage, we can buy new equivalents of these items and get reimbursed for the difference.


Since the entire ceiling is out, I’m seriously thinking of installing recessed lighting in the den. I’ll probably do it myself and ask the contractor to wait a day between demolition/cleanup and nailing up the new drywall.

The question is what kind of lighting to do? I only have 9′ ceilings in that main room, so I’m afraid traditional 6″ recessed lighting may look huge. Plus I don’t like how hot incandescents run; that room is already too warm in the summer.

I like the look of halogen recessed lighting, but some sites say these may be best for directional lighting. I may also look into dimmable compact fluorescent-based lights.

Mean Kitty

My younger cat Olivia, nicknamed “Mean Kitty” by my son, recently discovered how to shred furniture. Furniture shredding is unacceptable with new furniture, so I have a hard decision: get her declawed or give her away.

Even though anti-declaw arguments are exaggerated and full of holes (link), I am still uncomfortable with the procedure.

But even if I do it, I will have spent money on a kitty with a terribly defective personality. She is already reclusive, skittish, and dislikes my wife and son. She comes out only for me and only when I am in seated or lying down, and only when nobody else is around.

When she was a kitten, she was nice to everybody, and she wanted to sleep on me at night. I don’t know why she changed so dramatically!

Would she do better in a one person, no child household?

I hate giving up a pet, but I have a cat with a terribly defective personality occupying one of my two cat “slots.”

I don’t know what to do. If it has to come down to risking her being put down, I’ll probably keep her. But I may investigate placing her somewhere else.