“Looks good, put a disclaimer on it and send it out.”
“Really? You don’t want to change anything?”
“Nah, it looks great. Didn’t find any errors.”

And with that, my first solo pricing was out in the world. The work wasn’t particularly complicated but it required a bit of leg work and I had taken steps to explain my assumptions so a 3rd party could follow. The recipient received the work, said thank you, and any errors or insights were now part of some vaguely defined “record””. Hooray, I suppose.

I’ve been doing solo pricing for about a year. I’m to the point where I can figure out when I need to raise my hand and ask for an adult and when I can just kind of run with something and add a footnote pointing out what I did. I consider it the actuarial equivalent of being able to ride your bike in a straight line but having trouble turning. Luckily, many destinations are a straight line from where I currently am. The critical question seems to be “why shouldn’t I do this” vs. “why should I do this other thing”. Often there’s a collection of acceptable methods and it’s more a process of removing the wrong ones and picking rather than simply drawing the correct tool from the rack. Maybe this changes over time (I imagine it does) but hopefully it doesn’t represent hubris or laziness.

For now, I’ll go in long straight lines and at minimum try to pedal faster.

The floor below went silent about two weeks ago. No more odd hour doorbell rings, no more smells of foreign spices, and no more late night I’m-not-sure-what parties. It was nice. Mail started piling up for my downstairs neighbors and an “APARTMENT FOR RENT” sign went up. Were they evicted or maybe left for the season? On my way up to my apartment, I saw no light under their door and out of curiosity turned the knob. The door opened and the apartment was full of stuff. I recognized a few items from the one or two times I’d interacted with them. I shuffled around their floor stealing glances at the artifacts of habitation which suggested way more than two people lived there. My eyes wandered over how their book cases were arranged, what furniture was used, how the TV was the focal point, and the spareness of their kitchen compared to mine. After a minute or so, I walked out and went to my unit.

I prepared dinner and then asked my housemate if he wanted to have a look. He said yes and we wandered down. The door was now locked. So I knocked as a check. No response.

Had someone come home? Was someone there when I visited the first time? I’m not sure. But I contacted the landlord who said their lease was continuing through August.


As homeownership becomes a serious consideration I find myself chewing on living arrangements. My space is shared with my housemate which works out by and large well. I by and large control the layout of things as I simply have more stuff and take up more space with it. My housemate does most of his activities outside the apartment while I don’t. At summer camp I shared my bedroom with two others through the age of 26. My downstairs neighbors seem to have something similar to that (or simply have a radically different arrangement where notional bedrooms aren’t used as such). I watched an action movie with an action scene that took place in a kitchen and I couldn’t help but stare at the counter tops. So many things to consider.

A recent hire asked me to her desk to help figure out why a data table in Excel wasn’t working properly. Data tables can be somewhat testy and when we got this one to work my coworker did a little dance and ran to tell another coworker we had figured it out.

I laughed, illuminated by her delight and said “Work is a lot more fun with you guys [the cohort of new hires] around”. She looked at me and said in her slight accent “That’s because you were jaded”. I’ve been at my current firm for less than three years and I’m “jaded”. Two weeks ago a coworker said I wasn’t spontaneous. I’m boring and jaded… I have some work to do.

The charge of being unspontaneous took me back. I’m been caught yelling things like “DR. SPACEMAN” and doing things like challenging people to foot races to settle disputes. Have I changed? Do I not have the spare 10% for the ridiculous or has some spontaneous part of me died? Is the office place just a bad environment to express it or am I just busy? Was it that I tend to send out meeting invites for training and tend to bake things on the same day of the week?

The paradox is that to prove her wrong, I can’t plan anything. I mentioned it to a coworker and his immediate response was “this calls for a glitter bomb”. Great, but the planning of such undoes spontaneous. And I feel like spontaneous and random are different, so bringing in the glitter bomb but not placing it until the mood moved me seems to somehow cheat.


Me: Hi, I have a few questions about the pricing for the account you passed me.
Broker: (in a strong Dutch accent) Yes yes, what is it that you need?
Me: I’ve not priced many life and health accounts before, is there much development on these losses?
Broker: Development?
Me: Yes. Usually due to reporting lag losses for some period of time I higher a year after the close of the accounting period vs. a few months.
Broker: All payments must be requested within 90 days of billing.
Me: So claims don’t pop up later?
Broker: No. It’d be billed to successive years. Most people with chronic conditions go to the Netherlands but there is one little boy who is fighting a bone marrow infection and has been for two years. Everyone hopes he gets better.
Me: Me too.
Broker: Curacao has less than 200,000 people on it, Mr. Robinson.

In a very basic way, the goal of a reinsurance broker is to know his customer. This fellow seems to.

At the end of the call, he mentioned that he may try to arrange a call between me, him, and the chief actuary of one of the largest insurers on the island. I sounded a bit flummoxed at this, having never really talked directly to a client, and he added “don’t worry, he hasn’t been an actuary for that long”.

I mentioned the call to my boss “I’m terrified.” Her response was “me too”.

I took an actuarial exam yesterday and am happy with how I did. I left one blank, had four that I consider near guesses (could only rule out one or two answer choices) plus the probably background noise of me just misreading questions or fatfingering a key on my calculator. I will be glad if I pass but if I didn’t, I think I’ll have been close.

I ran a training session with the new hires and caught up on work I had put off. The day was frantic and I had only barely regained my abilities to interact with no calculators when I got a message from a coworker.

Him: Best loss listing ever.
Me: Howso?
Him: The entire description for this loss is “cleaning tools, testicles”.

Messages like this are why I fear an open laugh as my entire company would be able to hear us laugh. “Cleaning tools, testicles” means that at some point, some person in a claims department somewhere decided that the only additional information required to move forward on a workers’ compensation claim was “cleaning tools, testicles”. Someone thought that, in its entirety, described what had happened to the listed injured person. There was no additional information as to the line of work, the time of day, the type of person (presumably male?), or environment that solicited “cleaning tools, testicles” nor the chain of events that lead up to or followed “cleaning tools, testicles”. A simple mystery. One that will probably solved by a urologist and someone somewhere in an HR department.

Each exam gets a little easier to prepare for. It takes no less time but it takes less of a toll on me. My last exam had me using my treadmill at 3am to burn off nervous energy and the one before that had me reconsidering my career choice. I think I’ve gained a pound or two, less than a percent of my body weight and this may be due to the fact that I’ve eaten 3 lbs of peanut butter in one week. Two days ago, I decided to be classy and purchased almost two pounds of artisan cheese. That cheese is now gone. If this be the price of victory, I pay it gladly.

My memory for normal facts has deserted me and I’ve forgotten how cardinal directions work in addition to the finer points of arithmetic (such as 1+1 not equaling one) have taken holidays from my memory. I ask for no pity as I bring this entirely on myself. Most actuaries are less melodramatic with the toll exams can take on ones life. A Quebecois coworker who is also an actuary once said “I do not know why you complain. You either pass the exams and become an actuary, or you fail and you do not.” She’s like a statistical Hemmingway.

Recently I’ve also started noting some benefits. I have a certain confidence to being able to do large, difficult things if I want them. In the equivalent time of my last two exams, I probably could have become reasonably good at a foreign language or written a short novel or collection of stories. I could have mastered southern cooking or gotten back up to running 10Ks. I could have Again, this isn’t regret so much as a note to myself that when this is over, I will have little excuse not to do something of my time. On the more productive side, I could have watched every episode of the Simpsons or Law & Order.

I plan to. In the meantime, I have some practice problems to do/peanut butter to finish.

The man in question pulled his folding metal basket cart on the subway and looked around. He was dressed in a thawb and what looked like a Jinnah hat. He smiled at the car and looked around before pulling his cart up behind himself in car exit opposite where he entered. He seemed neat but not clean with probably tobacco stains on his fingers. We exchanged nods and I went back to my whatever. He fingered some piece of paper with multicolor writing on it the entire time he was in the car but not in a nervous way so much as in a manner to keep his hands busy while his mind wandered. The paper equivalent of twirling a pen. He and I left at the same shop, but I let him go first. Before exiting, he dropped the paper he was manipulating into a metal pamphlet container mounted by the entrance to the car. I waited a beat and let him completely exit before grabbing the paper.

This is what it said:


The paper itself smelt strongly of spices or oils that were alien to me. Probably the vanilla or lilac of generic “nice smell” of a culture more used to things more potent. I scanned the paper and returned it to the metal pamphlet holder the next time I took the subway.

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.