My apartment is a large single-level dwelling. The kitchen is divided into a sink/range and a prep area, bisected by the egress and ingress to the pantry and from the living room, respectively. When I prepare bacon I use the George Foreman grill and repeated batches can generate a good bit of smoke. If I don’t close the door to the pantry the smoke alarm aka bacon siren will be activated regardless of how much ventilation I have in the kitchen. So I close the door, open the windows, and turn on the range exhaust fan for good measure. I set an alarm on my watch to go off after four or five minutes whereby I rotate the bacon or put a new raster on the grill. Normally I prepare about a lb of bacon in two or three batches but today I was going through a full three pounds in an effort to increase the amount of on-hand bacon in my kitchen. After about the fifth or sixth batch I glanced into the kitchen and saw a thick haze near the ceiling that would have made the fire alarm shit itself. This cloud was about two feet thick and made a nice band going from the grill to the exhaust. It flowed continuously and had periodic breaks when I rotated batches and for a moment there was no bacon to sizzle, punctuating its continuous stream. My mouth watered looking at realizing it was a cloud of bacon. If I could have bottled it I would to infuse other dishes but sadly, I don’t yet have this technology. My kitchen now had food-based weather and today a new phenomenon was witnessed, bacon haze.

Tom turned 22 tonight. All of our toasts were “to turning 17!” but none of the bartenders or hosts seemed to bat an eyelash at it. Our night’s entertainment was karaoke at Yakitori Boy, a karaoke bar on 11th St. One can either join the general bar scene there and pay a buck to be added to the karaoke queue or rent a room. Rooms came in sizes to support anywhere between 8 and 24 people and I had reserved an 8 person room for 90 minutes. I was called the day before with a note of “dress code requires no hoodies or excessively loose fitting clothing. I was curious if this place had a problem with people packing automatic weapons, but when we arrived and I was made to sign a release everything made sense. The place had a $200 uncorking fee. They weren’t worried about people packing uzis but people packing uozo.

Me: So do you have problems with people sneaking in booze?
Attendee: Usually the clinking gives it away.
Me: How about people arriving with say fake legs and being true bootleggers?
Attendee (turns to other hostesses): I think we’d allow that.
Me: The damages are listed as “$200 per hole” what does that mean?
Attendee: Do you plan on breaking anything?
Me: Not this time.
Attendee: Then there should be a problem.

We arrived in the room and there were no holes to be found. Splendid. If I want to sneak booze in next time I may have giant foam fingers made saying “#1 Karaoke-ist” that will secretly contain liquor sleeves. Alternatively, fake legs.

Philadelphia’s subways sometimes feel like something I don’t use so much as borrow. Every day, I get on at 40th St sometime between 8:45 and 9:20 and return home sometime after 6:30. The closer to 8:00am I board the train the more business-like the ridership. As I get earlier or later, that trails off to this collection of unidentifiables and crazies. They’re the background radiation of commuting. Before about 5am and after about 11pm they outnumber regular passengers (commuters, those seeking entertainment, students) and they tend to be louder. Having loud phone conversations with other parties that may not be there, rechecking their bags for some quantity of belongings, or simply sleeping.

The subway has its own demographic weather. There’s obviously rushes every morning and evening for commuters, but there are student rushes during the day as private and charter schools start or end their days. During lunch times, there’s a disproportionate chance of some group showing in force. Every Tuesday or so there’s a lot of disabled veterans and every Thursday afternoon there seems to be an unusual number of queer riders. I’ve not mustered the nerve to ask one of these folks if there’s a community meeting, or luncheon, or what have you that they attend or to see if I’m just subject to apophenia.

Sometimes, late at night, I’ll step onto a subway car where I’m the only person seemingly using the subway to get somewhere and I feel like I’m interrupting. I try not to wake anyone or interrupt someone dancing to music that may not exist and stand close to the door. This is their living room and I’m uninvited. Three stops later I’ll step out and catch a glance with another rider who feels the same way and we exchange a look like two people who just left a party that was in no way what they thought it would be. This library-like quietude seems like it’d make for a good studying environment in case of emergency.

In a way, these always denizens make me feel safe. If someone decided to try and stab me and steal my wallet, there’d at least be four unreliable witnesses in the car. Or, once the person got my wallet, everyone would ask that now obviously more monied person for change. Not even another homeless person wants to endure that.

I got in work very early on Monday. A coworker was returning from vacation and I wanted to have something done in advance of his return. Work started for me at 6am and I was largely finished by the time he got into work. I told him what I had done, he told me to make some changes and I spent the day making them. One or two parts were rather tricky so it wasn’t until the end of the day that I finished. I shot the lead a note that I was done but it probably needed some clean-up and asked to talk in the morning.

This morning, I arrived and the lead shot me a message of “for time’s sake, let me make the fixes and I’ll go over them when I’m done”. Seven hours later he messages me. “Done, please do an editorial review.” Cool. I open the work file and almost nothing of my work remained except for two things: Modifying the color of the column headers and a single calculation. I wasn’t mad or upset, but smirked at how wrong I had been. How absolutely off-base I had been with my assumptions, how naively I treated calendar year accounting, and how underdeveloped my accrual calculations had been. I started laugh. A non-actuarial coworker heard me, and asked what was funny.

Me: Imagine someone asks you to make a sandcastle and after getting some basic instructions you do it. You finish and you look at it and go “eh, not bad. Could use work though.” You tell the person who requested it that you’re done and they say “I need to make a few changes” and you think “I guess I didn’t nail it but I helped!”. At the end of the day you come back and see a completely new sand castle there. So new, in fact, you think they trucked in their own sand because it’s not even same color. On closer inspection you do see that they did use some of your work: a single plastic figurine you had added to yours was preserved. Then the person asks you to check their sand castle to make sure it conforms to what they wanted.
Her: Oh.

Actuarying hard.

Insurance companies often write multiple lines of business. A given firm may insure people’s cars, the drivers of those cars, their houses, maybe their businesses. Each of these lines shows different loss characteristics and these can change over time. Part of my job is taking a loss listing and assigning the losses to categories so I can then do juju on them as similar groups. Sometimes this isn’t straight forward so I’ll contact someone more familiar with the client who may know. Today I had one of those calls:

Me: So, there’s a claim in 2004 with no real description except that it happened to a fuel oil company. Lists a destroyed vehicle, and about five million more in property damage but no one was injured. What was happening there?
Broker: Oh, that was an explosion.
Me: Any more detail?
Broker: Guy thought he had turned a valve off, turns out he hadn’t. Underground parking lot filled with gas until the building’s heat kicked on and triggered an explosion.
Me: Wow. Gonna call that auto liability.
Broker: Those are rare, though.
Me: How about the loss in 2007? That looks like a bundle of about eleven claims.
Broker: Oh, that was the beginning of the shale boom in that area. New guy operating a truck and he didn’t properly seal a container and it exploded. But that was a one time deal.
Me: Good to know, that’s AL (short for auto liability) too, and in 2011? Again, this one lists a lot of auto liability but no details.
Broker: Oh yes. A truck was on the highway and some volatiles were leaking because it wasn’t properly closed and it started a fire and there was a small explosion.
Me: Uh, huh. Soooooo….
Broker: That’s probably AL too.

I’m an actuary and don’t really do loss containment or preventative action, but it seems like if your three largest claims are all caused by exploding vehicles that someone didn’t properly operate, maybe you should work on that.

My firm hired four inexperienced actuaries. That increases our basic pricing team from three to seven and I get to have a hand in their education. To make room for this gaggle of new proto-actuaries we’re shuffling some existing people into offices that are now empty. Their time there will be comparatively brief; we’ll be moving into a new office space with very few private offices in about six months, but for now some group gets to have their tiny domains.

Since the move in has happened, I’ve noticed two changes:
1) They spend most of the time with their office doors closed. This suggests to me, that given the opportunity for privacy, they will take it.
2) They ask people to swing by their offices. I’m not entirely sure where this tendency comes from. It could be a subtle observation that the person leaving their office has a tiny amount more walking to do vs someone who just goes to threshold of their fief. It come be a tiny tyranny. It could be trying the phrase on for size.

I hope the latter fades quickly. In the mean time, I’ll enjoy the quieter work place.

The move to an open office plan is not one I meet gladly. My current tactic is to accumulate enough monitors to block out intrusions and bathe myself is soft warm light. I have some pack ratting to do.

This happened two weekends ago:

“EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEHNT” this wasn’t the simple klaxon of the fire alarm from within my apartment, the one that I associate with the celebration of preparing bacon. This was the shrill whine of “the building’s on fire”. I rose, grabbed a blanket, grabbed my phone, grabbed my keys, put on my slippers and descended two stories to the sidewalk. Nothing appeared to be on fire. Good.

I walked back inside, saw that the alarm control panel on the ground floor said “BASEMENT” and “GROUND FAULT” and called the landlord to call the emergency person to call the staff person to ask them to turn the alarm off.

Me: The alarm’s going off.
Landlord: Is anything on fire?
Me: No. (Good question though)
Landlord: I don’t have the passcode.
Me: Ok. Please call when you get it.

The fire department arrived. Asked if anything was on fire, I said nope and a gaggle of Irishmen looked about. While they were, a vagrant asked me for a dollar to buy a donut. I was arguably more disheveled than he but he asked anyway. I said no and he shuffled off.

The fire department left, giving me permission to go back inside. I smiled and said thank you. They sheepishly apologized for their powerlessness.

Every pass code I’ve encountered has been four digits. My building number is four digits. Hm? “4-0-1-4, enter, silence alarm, huh.” So that worked and the alarm went off. I went back to bed and 30 minutes later the alarm went off again. I entered the code again and this time the alarm stayed off for maybe 15 seconds. I entered it again when LBM (large black man), one of the people who works in the ground floor furniture store saw me entering the code and asked “You got a leak up there?” I said no and he said “something’s leaking through the ceiling and dripping onto the power box for the alarm system, setting off the ground fault. He knocked loudly on my downstairs neighbor’s door. He then knocked very loudly and no one came.

The alarm went off again and I showed the store below how to turn it off. On my way back up the stairs, my downstairs neighbor popped his head out of his door. “You!” I yelled. He looked at me. “You need to go downstairs and talk to the store, now. Something’s leaking.” He closed his door and I thought he’d come back out with shoes. He didn’t. I told LBM that he was there. He walked up the stairs knocked on the door, then hammered on the door. Downstairs neighbor opened the door a sliver *wham* LBM becomes ABM (angry black man) and throws the door open and charges through my downstairs neighbor’s seeming opium den. He comes back yells “YOUR BATHROOM IS FLOODED. WHY DID IT NOT OCCUR TO YOU THAT COULD BE A PROBLEM. YOU HAVE SET OFF THE FIRE ALARM AND DESTROYED MY CEILING. WHY WAS A FLOODED BATHROOM NOT SOMETHING YOU THOUGHT WAS A PROBLEM.” My downstairs neighbor’s response was….a blank stair. “CLEAN IT THE FUCK UP OR YOU WILL REPLACE MY CEILING”. I assumed he meant “would be responsible for paying to have it redone” but on reflection he may have meant “I will use your corpse as a cork”.

I almost enjoy scenarios like this. I get to show competence. I figured out how to contact the building super from frantic googling of our property manager’s parent company, I figured out the fire code, and helped write “Angry Black Man and the Downstairs Neighbor Whose Shit Flooded”. That said. The quietude of a place to myself would be quite nice. So the search continues.

I downloaded Surgeon Simulator 2013 wishing for a lighthearted game to play between bouts of studying. It’s like the QWOP of job simulators. The controls are quite difficult and hard to engage with the world. For instance, I found the easiest way to open the chest cavity is to take a drill and drag it around the rib cage as my hand limped from the weight. Tonight I invited Matt over to try. He took to it well and I have an amazing snap of him beating open someone’s abdominal cavity with an alarm clock. After some play we decided to see how speedrunners took to removing the ribcage.

Here’s how

Yep, hit them across the chest with a hammer fast enough and all the ribs just fly off. I hope it works that way in real life.

I spent the day inside, nibbling at things I needed to do, annoyed by still being sick. I dawdled and cleaned, and picked at notes, and watched the sun go down.

Sometime after dark, I went for cough medicine. My cough had gone from productive to just a dry hacking so went the six blocks to the still open CVS. After taking a moment to see if my anger at the large homeopathic remedy section would trigger dormant pyrokinesis, I grabbed a bottle of cough medicine and I went to check out. Went to self check-out. Scanned. Warning pops up “Age verification required”. Oh? I waited and scanned the store. People were popping in and out, making purchased via self check-out and returning into the night. I looked around, checked the aisles for anyone with a CVS shirt on, nothing. There was a contract security person and I was left to ask him “does….. anyone work here?” He replied “Someone will be here” but in that way of it being aspirational rather than knowing. There was a genuine moment of “am I in the clean but barren future where the only people in the store are the security and the customer?”. We stared at each other for a moment and a CVS person with a coat on came in. She seemed harried and was wrapped in clothing like she’d been brought in for a special occasion. She entered some command on the console and my purchase completed without issue. She muttered “last thing I thought I’d have to do age verification for”.

She hurried back out and I wondered if she was returning to the CVS Personnel Central Distribution Hub to wait the next event requiring human attention. I crested the door and my post-human tomorrow shattered. She had been taking a smoke break with the other cashier. From tyranny to freedom.

I looked at a house today. I thought I was going to like it. I didn’t. The lighting was high and sparse except on the second floor where the reflections off of parking lots, clouds, and brick row homes flooded in prismatic shades of grey. Most of the rooms were long or trapezoidal and had a Wonderland aspect to them. I couldn’t see myself living there. I made the barest effort to hide my disappointment as I left and another group entered to look around.

I had taken off early from work to go see the house which is less than a block from where I live. I logged back in to my work laptop and my boss shot me a message of “done so soon?”. I said I didn’t like it and she said you won’t like the first 100.

I decided that a house was something I wanted about two weeks ago. Exams were getting me down, so I thought about buying a house or dating again so I chose the easier of the two, home ownership. Ideally, Mike would relocate with me and I could stay within a few blocks of a subway station. Mass transit or simply time to get to places is probably my largest consideration after just having the check box of “enough space for my things” marked. The whole process so far has been impolite. The agents for properties I’m looking for lead with questions regarding financing when I’m largely driven by opportunity. Lenders seem to have no interest in sychronizing with incentives for first-time homebuyers and only vaguely aware of them. I don’t need to move, in fact my rent is going up by a whopping 1.6% this year. Getting a letter of credit and having that drive my house purchasing seems to putting the cart before the horse. I will look at places, I will like them, or I will not, and I will go from there. Or at least that’s what I’m telling myself.

Matt is considering moving back into the suburbs which I suppose has its benefits. Cost per square foot is certainly lower but there’s a certain emptiness that I feel I’d run into there. The constancy of people in the city is comforting, even if it borders on a kind of slightly angry truce with those around me. At the same time, I feel a growing itch that I should be doing more with the city I’m in. An alternative plan would be to move elsewhere until I finish my exam sequence, save up, and return with a proper apartment sometime when I can afford the $350k properties that tend to get me salivating.

I could also jettison the idea of living with someone and cut my space requirements considerably. But something magical seems to happen once you get two bedrooms. Suddenly a living room becomes a necessity and the kitchen becomes a proper room. I have more exploring to do.

This proved all too heavy for me so I wiped away thoughts of a house and decided to make a rice cooker cake. My rice cooker is just a heating coil combined with a thermometer. If the thermometer registers a temperature abouve about 215°F it turns off, presuming all the excess water has boiled away or been absorbed. Cakes generally want an internal temperature of about 210°F so all should be right in the world.

I pour the batter into the rice cooker, hit start, and three minutes later the rice cooker turned off. Darn. I hit start again and it immediately switched off. I waited a few minutes, hit start again and again the rice cooker stayed on for about three minutes. My fix to this cycle was to jam a spoon in the start switch to keep it in “ON” mode and 30 minutes later I smelled something nicely toasted…a little too toasted…maybe way too toasted… On closer inspection, the cooking time wasn’t 60 minutes but closer to 20, which I suppose is partly good, but the flip side is that I think I broke my rice cooker. The cake isn’t bad once you cut off the burnt part. Ce la vie.