Tuesday, March 26, 2013

My First Contest Win

I am resisting the temptation to write in ALL CAPS, but I'm excited to announce my very first REAL credit.  I placed 2nd in the Actuarial Speculative Fiction contest!

I also grabbed the "Most unique use of technology in a story" award.

So, Booyah!  First credit to put in my query letters!  Finally, something to put in my Schedule C - Income section!

The other winners are good stories, and I recommend reading them as well.  Also, check here to see an overview of all 18 stories.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a cover letter to write ...

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Mister Six Digits

Did I ever tell you about the toughest student to walk into the BYU Math Lab?  We called him Mister Six Digits, because every time he talked, he never hesitated to remind you how much he made.  He was also very difficult to tutor, because if he couldn't understand you, he would tell you to go away.

My boss gave me the challenge to reach the guy.  I was one of the best tutors in the Math Lab at the time.  That's because of this little talent I have.  When I tutor, I not only look at the piece of paper, but I study the person -- their voice, their posture -- searching for any clues of understanding.  If I see that my approach is working, I continue.  If it's not working, I switch gears and try something else.  It's kind of like playing a musical instrument.

So, when Mister Six Digits put up his orange flag, the other tutors let me have him.  At first it was difficult to learn his style, but things started clicking.  He was understanding the math, and he was happy.  He learned my hours at the Math Lab and came at those times.  He told me that he liked me.  I was his favorite little nerd.  He would put his arm around me and give me fisty-pumps.

As he became more acquainted with me, he opened up ... well, kind of.  He would talk about being rich and successful in general, but would never go into details.  We math tutors tried to figure out how he was getting those six digits.  Was he an Amway dude who got in early?  Was he a drug dealer?  In Utah?  The best theory we could come up with was that his father owned a successful company and put his son into a management level position at the top.

I resented the guy, but I had a job to do, and I would do whatever it took to make sure this guy got the highest grade possible in his class.  However, it was difficult when he would say something like this ... "Do you know the difference between me and you?  I'm going to college because I want to, since I make six digits.  You're going to college because you have to."

There were so many responses I wanted to give, but bit my tongue since I had that job to do.  I would go home at night and unload on my wife and tell her what I wanted to say.  After all, how did he know that I wasn't making six digits?  Well, I wasn't.  Not even five digits.  But one day I'd catch up to him ... when my music and writing career took off.  It'll happen one day.  Right?

I didn't have to go to college, either.  If I wanted a real job, I could quit right then and there.  Right?  Well ... maybe he did have a point.

As the semester progressed, he got more and more on my nerves, but I was still the only person who could help him.  Then one day, he unloaded a big frustration on me.  With all the money he had in the world, he was unable to find a girlfriend.  He was feeling lonely.

And then the next week, he learned that I was married and my wife was pregnant with our first child.  He never knew before, because I don't usually wear my wedding ring.  He asked to see a picture of my wife, so I showed him.

He said, "Wow!  She's hot.  How did a loser like you find such a hot babe?"  He vented for another few minutes about how he still couldn't find himself a girlfriend and then he told me, "I'm sorry, but I can't concentrate.  Go away."

The next day he put up a flag when he saw me, and we tried it for about a minute when he said, "I'm sorry, but you can't help me anymore.  I can't stop thinking about how you got that hot wife.  That's so messed up."

And that was it.  I probably helped him one last time on a particularly difficult math problem, but on the most part, he pushed me away.

I never knew what happened to Mister Six Digits after that semester.  Did he figure out his "girl problems"?  Did he learn any lessons from our exchanges?  Is he still making six digits?  Did he ever become happily married?

I came out of that experience happier and satisfied.  I didn't have six digits, but I received happiness through fulfilling the duties of my job, and going home each night to a hot wife.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Actuarial Speculative Fiction - 2013 - The Stories

Last month, I announced my participation in the 10th Annual Actuarial Speculative Fiction Contest.

You can see my entry along with the others at this link here.  Then after you've read the stories, you can vote by clicking on the "Vote for your favorite story" link.  The voting ends on March 15, so read fast so you can vote.  The chances of me winning that honor are slim, but I'm hoping for winning one of the judged prizes.

If you only have time to read a few stories before voting ... or if you just want to read a few without voting, I'm supplying this guide to the stories.  These synopses can help you decide which ones you'd like to read.

I'll get my story out of the way, first.  As usual, I'm a terrible judge as to how great my work is.  The common phenomenon is that I know in my head what I wanted to accomplish, and when I read my story, that's what I see instead of what I actually did accomplish.  As such, I never vote for my own story and I leave it out of the rankings that are to follow.

Actuarial Year - John Johnson, an actuary, awakes from a coma and realizes that the world is starting to go his way.  Is everyone becoming an actuary?  Or is John still in a coma?

The following four are my favorites of the stories that remain.  Each of these follow an individual person's struggles or experiences, and also incorporates actuarial science to a satisfactory degree.  I predict that these stories would be enjoyable for actuaries and non-actuaries.  I will vote for one of these four.

Calibration (Steve Mathys) - In the not so distant future, probabilities rule everyone's lives.  Every night, probabilities are calculated on several yes/no events.  Then the morning of the next day, randomly generated numbers determine the actual outcomes.  Stuart lives a happy life until one day the answer to a certain question ruins his day -- big time.

Ever-Changing (Kevin Jones) - in a time when the world government establishes an annual budget and decides how resources are allocated, Henry (an actuary) is given a business opportunity that's hard to refuse.  Yet, he struggles -- is it best for his family?

Peanut Butter Cookies (Nate Worrell) - A robot is watching over Grannie and taking care of her, but is the robot as good as a human?  Plus, the insurance company is getting a little squirrely about the care.

Tolva (Jerry Levy) - Tim Tolva, an actuary, uses his skills to help design babies through manipulating genetic code.

The following five stories are a close second.  And you may like one of these better than my top four.  They each follow an individual's journey, and should be enjoyable to the non-actuary as well as the actuary reader.

Activities of Daily Living (Carol Marler) - This is a study of a new type of assisted living, from several different viewpoints.

Discrepancies (Laura E. Kieft) - All Celine wants to do is find Kyle (an actuary), but soon will find out that Kyle has stumbled on a discrepancy that is making lots of people rich.  However, guess who's in charge of the show...

The Fountain of Youth (Ben Marshall) - There's a new drug in town, and it's called Time Warp.  Rumors are that it can extend one's life expectancy, so naturally, insurance companies are very concerned, and may do whatever it takes to make sure Time Warp never sees the light of day.  While Sam learns of this drug, his wife contracts a terminal illness, and Sam does everything he can to save her life.  NOTE: This well-written and enjoyable story would be in my top four, but it sits at my estimate of at least 8000 words, which is well beyond the 6000 word maximum of the contest.

Sources and Characteristics of Mortality Tables (James A. Keeney) - Al Payano, actuary is tasked to produce a mortality curve, yet there's a big spike in the data.  Why did it show so many 30-years old dying at the same time?  At the same time, he's receiving major pressure from his boss to produce results.  Al tries to get down to the bottom of the data issues, but starts to wish he hadn't.

The Trial (Rodge) - Dr. Lopez is diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma.  In an attempt to save his life, he agrees to be cryogenically frozen until a cure can be found.  19 years later, he's cured and revived.  However, the life insurance company is upset that they paid out a death benefit only to find out that he's alive again.

The remaining stories are also interesting reads, but rather than following an individual's journey, they are really stories expanding on theories and hypothetical situations.  Actuaries will probably find these interesting more than non-actuaries.  Oh ... except for "Roxanne, Interrupted" which has nothing to do with actuarialism at all, but still well-written and worth reading.

My guess is that the judged technical awards will come out of this group.

The Actuaries of Boulder Ridge (Chris Fievoli) - shunned by society, actuaries who survive now live in a compound in the boonies of Montana.  They do their work in secret, even though standard insurance had collapsed.  The government is in a bad way, but one day the actuaries' biggest fears are realized: the government has found them.

An Actuarial Opinion (Mark Birdsall) - a group of actuaries has predicted the collapse of the US economy.  Can actuaries save the day?

Defending Your Life (Gregory A. Dreher) - James Johnson, personal actuary, uses his skills by helping people prepare for retirement.  But since the degradation of social programs and longer life spans cause retirement ages to be pushed into the 75 range, desperate couples find creative ways to get more money ... through innovative game shows.

Dreamliner (Rizwan Majeed Khan) - An actuary in the future makes a living in the secondary market insurance business.  One day he meets Michelle, an aspiring actuary, and taken by her, the narrator hires her and trains her to be his apprentice.

The Martian Paper Flea (Marilyn Dunstan) - Earth's magnetic field is dying and attempts are made to colonize Mars.  Peter Gabriel, an actuary, joins the colony and helps to assess morbidity and mortality.  As they come to learn that life once existed on Mars, they become exposed to a very interesting virus spread by the martian paper flea.

One Forecast of the Future (Scott McInturff) - Radha and Simon have just graduated with actuarial degrees, and they discuss their plans for the future.  NOTE: This story is very well-written, and I enjoyed it as an actuary, but not as a story reader since there really isn't any plot.  After introducing the characters, it turns into a long Ayn-Rand-like info dump.  I would love to read an action-thriller or some other story with a plot by this author.  Also, the word count is either right at 6000 or a little higher.

Roxanne, Interrupted (Walt Herrington) - this story is about Roxanne running from a pack of cyberdogs ... or is it.  The story is interrupted by some entity.  NOTE: This well written clever piece would possibly be in my top four, except it makes no mention of actuaries or the profession.  It's still an enjoyable read.

The Subprime Directive (Sean Behre) - an intergalactic committee has an interesting discussion concerning the death of the human race on Earth.  This is a clever analogy of our recent subprime market crash with a funny twist.

I hope you enjoy reading these stories ... and if you feel so inclined, vote for your favorite one.