aftermath

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Archive for December 2008

Too True To Be Good

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Today, you will give me a single grain of rice. Then, each day for thirty days you will give me double the rice you gave me the day before.

One Grain of Rice, a mathematical folktale by Demi

About 90 years ago, an Italian immigrant made essentially that same double-the-rice proposal to citizens of Boston: invest in my company, and I’ll double your money every 90 days. Do the math, people, do the damned math! Invest a million dollars in a scheme like that today, leave your money invested a mere five years, and you’ll be able to retire after that very brief period with upwards of one third of the current money supply of the entire U.S.!! Except . . . hmmmm, there seem to be more than two other financial idiots throwing into this scheme along with me, so how exactly are we going to be dividing up the country’s wealth between us all, pray do tell.

In the current re-run, the TV and the press and the politicians keep mislabeling the scheme’s investors as “victims.” The more accurate tag: “sucker.” And this time around, our scam artist’s biggest mistake was not turning his operation into a bank while he had the chance, in which case the U.S. taxpayer could have joined all the suckers by bailing him out.

So if these financial versions of chain letters are doomed to failure anywhere from as few as 15 to at most 30 iterations out into the future, might we not still see at least a near-term reality to them, temporarily without fraud, able to actually produce those get-rich-quick asset returns at first, simply not able to sustain it past some certain point, the exercise then becoming to know that point and get out before the scheme turns sour? No. That moment was back at the very initial point, at the origin of the idea.

Anything so good that it can’t be true will have its truth found out as not being all that good to begin with.

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Written by macheide

31 December 2008 at 10:30 am

Posted in whatev

Making It Not Work

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Just before I start approaching publishers to seek those rejection letters, I’ll need to go to my own employer for permission to proceed. This would be necessary even if I were to write this book as a children’s book (which might not be a bad idea). They simply need to make sure there is no questionable connection between my work and any outside enterprise in which I involve myself. As an easy and very relevant illustration, I would not be allowed to publish a revised edition of my nondiscrimination book, not while I am serving in the government in a position where such a book would too easily look like I am speaking on behalf of the government, or using my government position to improperly benefit myself outside my job, or prejudicing work I do for the government on cases involving what the book might express opinions about, or any of a truckload of other potential conflicts of interest.

This book I’m now working on would be about actuarial thinking. Which obviously is the basis of my work for the government. Yet I have every reason to hope that I will win approval to seek its publication while remaining in my current position, since the book is not really about what I do, but rather about how I do it. There will be nothing in the book that should affect or be affected by any specific work I do for the government, any more than if I were to write a book about breathing although obviously I need to breathe in order to perform my duties for the government.

But to make that line clearer, I’ve settled on a specific goal that will need some special attention: I plan to avoid discussing pension plans anywhere in the book. Not only in the conceptual chapters, but also in any background material about what actuaries do or used to do. In fact, I am going to aim toward not even having the word pension appear anywhere throughout the book’s text.

Stretching that a giant step further, the book would not be balanced well if it mentions insurance – life insurance, health insurance, or casualty insurance – without also at least waving a hand in the general direction of pensions. So I’ll take this goal to its extreme: I will plan to avoid discussing insurance, will avoid even using the word insurance.

A book about actuarial concepts without using the words “pension” and “insurance”? Yes, I think it can be done without having it feel distorted or silly. In fact, the discipline of the effort would help shift the focus precisely in the direction I want anyway: away from the standard job description and the traditional career path, concentrating instead on the person and the concepts. If I can discuss the future perspectives of financial risk and uncertainty as a broader universal concern without collapsing it into the pre-packaged notions of insurance and pensions, I might find more freedom to present my material without all the baggage that those specific “actuarial” topics carry.

Sure, any thoughtful reader is going to bring insurance and pensions to their understanding of my content. Like, if I were to ever go out on any post-publication speaking circuit on the book, questions about insurance and pensions would be inevitable. But I’m nowhere near needing to think any of that through. For now, in part because of the need to win my employer’s approval to proceed, but in equal part because it will help focus the material the way I feel I need to do, I will avoid insurance and pensions altogether in any of my writing for the book.

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Written by macheide

31 December 2008 at 5:48 am

Posted in littérateur

Decorating It All Up

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When do you put your decorations up?

christmas meme from susan

A

The day after Thanksgiving. That’s one of our family traditions. With emphasis on the family, mom. It’s not about the decorations: it’s about the love shared throughout this season. Let others show us “what Thanksgiving is all about” by lining up at Walmart at 3am to stampede their separate ways fighting the crowds for those discounts they’d like Christmas to be about. We’re here spending the day with each other launching a season of spending time together.

We start putting it all back up in the closet and the garage the day after Christmas. Today we’ll be taking down the living room tree. (Tell me, if the raw commercialism of Black Friday’s stampedes for those early holiday discounts is what Thanksgiving is all about, then those malls crowded this past week with shoppers doing their gift exchanges to get what they really wanted, is that what Christmas is all about?)





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Written by macheide

31 December 2008 at 1:01 am

Posted in not meme

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Pro Not Con

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Yes, a spark that lit the keg of gunpowder on this book spun out of my reading of The Black Swan. But the gunpowder was there already and would have gone off sooner or later anyway.

Even so, I’m going to continue reading this other book, since I know I will be able to carry on my own writing without fear of that book overly influencing my own, certainly no more so than reviewing Descartes and actuarial textbooks and other background research I plan to conduct while writing.

Whereas I anticipate my consumption of most of the other background reading I’ll be doing on this project to be supportive, quite obviously I’ve had a very strong visceral reaction against Taleb’s superficial over-projection of his personal experience. But I aim to use Taleb’s insults of those he views as beneath him as a model of what I ought avoid in my own writing, little more.

I will be writing with the aim to describe what I believe can be understood and shared, that is, what actuarial thinking stands “for,” rather than to waste effort in a vain attempt to argue “against.”

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Written by macheide

30 December 2008 at 11:25 pm

Posted in littérateur

Mapping the Chapters

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When I wrote the book on pension nondiscrimination, I first mapped out all of the chapters I intended to do, extensively detailed, that outline itself a more valuable reference tool on the topic than most any other content, both then and even to this day over 15 years later.

Someday maybe I’ll write a book differently, perhaps build a chapter or two without knowing the full map, then just follow my nose. This book might even be that way a little within each chapter. But not for the overall layout of the whole book. Like with the nondiscrimination book, I’ve started by mapping out the chapters I’ll be writing.

Got 15 so far. Might add several more before all is written and packed up to go to print. But this first set of 15 pretty much scopes out the territory I plan to cover, plus the sequencing I want through that territory.

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Written by macheide

29 December 2008 at 10:51 pm

Posted in littérateur

Finding Its Voice

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This book moved from back burner to active boil in the instant I voiced out loud its working title: Releasing Your Inner Actuary. Whether or not I keep that title through to publication, what that title has in it that moves me from dream to action is the slightly tongue-in-cheek mix of the odd with the universal, the implication – which will be not only an implicit theme throughout the book, but also its hope for finding an audience – that there is really nothing all that unique in how an actuary addresses and manages uncertainty and risk, that the actuary’s ideas and methods are quite universal. At the same time, I intend a degree of lighthearted teasing of the actuary in any and all of this.

Even if I wind up changing the title, I anticipate aiming for the same feel, since that was the spark that launched this into turning active on me: just light enough or just strange enough to remain far clear of actually being an actuarial mathematics treatise, while still trying to reach out to common ground that brings the actuarial mind to the general public, as it were.

For the nondiscrimination book, I started with chapter 15, worked out from that core in both directions, and wrote the preface last. That felt so natural to me that I was picturing doing the same here, reserving work on any preface until after everything else had been written. It didn’t fall out that way: I opened the file for my writing on this book with a first draft of a preface. Alright, now I’ll probably write out 20 different variations of a preface as I proceed, so even portions of this first draft might never make it to the final proof. For now, it helps me find the voice I think I want. Mine. How I would say it if I were to write it. Which of course would be appropriate, since I am doing so – just, I know I may have to work on it to aim toward something anyone else might care to read.

But it’s a start. A good solid start.

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Written by macheide

28 December 2008 at 10:16 pm

Posted in littérateur

BP Monitor

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Since I thought I’d lost this old equipment, Santa gave me a new machine to keep track of my BP. Eh, this old one had turned into a pathological liar anyway, isn’t even worth the trouble of remembering to save in a goodwill pile.

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Written by macheide

28 December 2008 at 12:50 pm

Posted in discard

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