Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Imitation Game is a Good Imitation

As a computer programmer and mathematician, I couldn't resist seeing this movie about a favorite idol, Alan Turing.  As one of the pioneers who paved the way for modern-day computers, Alan helped to create a machine that would break the unbreakable German Enigma Code in The Imitation Game.

This very entertaining movie explores the mind of a genius, touching on practically all aspects one would expect in a story involving Mr. Turing.  There are references to the "Imitation Game" itself -- a test to see if an intelligence is human or machine.  We see to what lengths these guys went to keep the code breaking effort a secret.  The movie also explores what it was like to be gay back when it used to be illegal.

The movie also successfully captures what I like to call a Eureka moment, which is that very moment when you solve a very difficult problem, the heavens open up, and you see everything.  I've had these moments myself, and they are always pretty awesome.

However, there are a couple of small problems with the movie.  The writers took it upon themselves to dumb everything down so the audience could have a better chance of understanding, and they changed a few facts to make the drama a little more exciting.

For example, Alan Turing wasn't such a Sherlock-like sociopath.  In real life, he could get along with other geniuses, though he generally was socially inept otherwise.  Also, in real life, his superiors treated him with respect.  So, all that bit about wanting to fire him for building a stupid machine?  It didn't happen, but it sure did make good drama.

Also, the big aha leading up to the Eureka moment is really Codebreaking 101.  The trick they mentioned would have been the first things they tried.  But this is okay, as what led to the Eureka moment in real life probably would have been over all our heads.

Further, the whole idea of "It's midnight and now the Nazi code is changed and so we all have to start over from scratch and get angry and toss our papers on the floor" doesn't really make sense.  In real life, the code you were working on is still there, and there's no reason why you couldn't finish your work.  Even though it would be too late to decode "current" Nazi messages, you would still learn things and see how to get faster.  Guess what ... that's what happened in real life, too.  They got to where they could solve it in two weeks, then one week, and finally the breakthrough to do it in minutes.

Lastly, a comment on the music:  It took me a while to realize that most of the music imitates the sounds of the Turing machine.  Cool.

Regardless of the inaccuracies, the movie does get a lot right.  If you don't know anything about Alan Turing, I strongly suggest watching this movie and get a good introduction.  You'll get lots of good drama, too.

Friday, March 13, 2015

The AdSense Experiment - One Year Later

A year ago, I started an experiment with AdSense.  I let them put ads on my blog (and some YouTube videos), and they pay me according to how many clicks and views the ads get.  Clicks get more money than views.

You can read my first four posts on this subject here: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4

After one year, I now report that on the most part, it has been a fun failure.  This blog has earned me almost $6 over the past 12 months.  Woot!  Woot!  The YouTube portion (which I started later) has also earned me about $6 for a total of $12.

In one respect, that's actually a lot of money, considering I didn't put forth any labor.  But then again, if I consider it as payment for putting together blog posts and videos, it's not really that much money at all.  I could earn a higher hourly rate working a minimum wage job.

Plus, I'm thinking more and more that the ads don't look good on my blog.  They hardly seem to match the subject matter.  And as I mentioned earlier, it's difficult to control which questionable ads to turn off.  You can turn off certain categories, but often if I see a questionable ad, there's no good way to determine what it's category is, or to simply block that specific ad.  (As if I click on the ad to get information, I get penalized.)

The exact amount of earnings is still confusing.  If I click on the earnings report, it shows "estimated" earnings.  But why can't it be exact?  It gives me a sense that clicks aren't registering (technical problems), and/or AdSense decides to negate some earnings for whatever reason ... either way it seems that any error will resolve to benefit the company.  And no matter how I look at the numbers, I can never get them to add up to my "current balance."  What kind of money voodoo do they do?

When I did my taxes, I was technically supposed to report my earnings during the year even though I didn't receive a payment.  But there were two problems:

#1) I had no way to get an exact amount from their website.

#2) They provided no tax earnings report for me.  When I clicked on the link to take me to my tax reports, it said "Page not found," implying that there are no forms for me.

No tax report and no firm earnings amount meant no reporting earnings on my tax return.  But don't worry, Uncle Sam.  You'll get your taxes when I actually get paid.

At the beginning of 2015, I hit the magical $10 threshold.  That was kind-of fun.  I got something in the mail that contained some secret numbers for me to set up payment information.  This meant two things:

#1) I can now get paid my earnings whenever I want them.  If it hits $100, they'll automatically send me money.  (Though I still have to tell them how to send it to me.)

#2) I now have access to the payment reports, which provide more concrete numbers.  It shows how much payment actually got accrued to me.  And it shows how much came from this blog, and how much came from YouTube.  On a monthly basis, YouTube provides a slightly higher payout.  If only I had access to this info when I filed my taxes!

What's up next?  As soon as I finish my Justice novel and get it published, I'm planning on removing AdSense from my blog and replacing it with an ad to buy my book.  Then I'll have something that actually matches my blog content, and something that will pay more with each click.  I will still keep AdSense on my YouTube account, and the experiment will continue.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Actuarial Speculative Fiction 2015 - The Stories

It's that time of every-other year when I give quick overviews of all the stories entered into the Actuarial Speculative Fiction contest.  For this 11th event, sixteen stories were submitted, including my own.

As I mentioned before, you can find the stories here.  Up till this coming Sunday, you can also vote for your three favorite stories, and the one with the most votes will get the reader's choice award.

After reading all the entries, I'm a little depressed, as the competition is pretty strong, and I don't think my entry is the best I've written, but then again, I'm always blind as to how good/bad my stories are.

I'll go ahead and get my story out of the way before presenting the other fifteen.

The First Actuary - Gog is a caveman who invents numbers and uses his intelligence to help his tribe survive and beat other tribes.  But something's wrong.  The numbers don't add up.  Before Gog can figure out the answer, he first needs to learn what the problem is.

Now I will introduce my personal favorites, of which I will choose three when I vote tonight.  These stories not only touch on actuarial topics, but they also have fun plots, and I think they're just cool.

If you only have time to read a couple, I recommend choosing from the following.

Proteus (Michael Anderson) - Tom Volker, an actuary, comes to realize his life is one big waste.  That is, until a unique opportunity comes along with a company that manufactures super bio-suits that monitor one's health and provide extra strength.

Chance of Failure (Gregory A. Dreher) - Richard Diamond, while suspecting foul play, investigates John Smith, the Actuary, and his company, which produces nanotechnology that extends a person's life.

Life After Death (Ken Feng) - After Hubbard Scientific (affiliated with the Church of Scientology) introduces a radical technique of preserving brains after death and implanting them in robot-like containers, an actuary Ken decides to investigate the company.

The Cascade Model (Kevin C Jones) - One day, Antonio Echevarria is tapped by the Actuary General herself to oversee a very important model in relation to a major energy breakthrough.  During his first day on the job, he's amazed to learn what really goes on behind the scenes, including seeing some very impressive complex models.

The Illustrious Career of Mister James Stephan, FSA (Steve Mathys) - Hoping to be inducted into the Humans Against Humanity Society, James Stephan presents his story of all the despicable acts he committed just to become chief actuary.

While not my favorites, the following stories are still enjoyable.  They also have fun plots, but they don't jive so much with my personality.  Chances are, you may find you like some of these better than my personal favorites.  In fact, the ultimate winner usually comes from my batch of second-favorites.

Dangerous Knowing (Karissa Burgess) - An unnamed actuary infiltrates a high-security facility in an attempt to obtain evidence to expose a massive government cover up involving children vaccinations.

Global Health (Marilyn Dunstan) - In this near-farcical story, several Russians combine forces in a clever attempt to fleece the American actuary, Rufus, who is gathering information to form the best healthcare system.  When you're done reading, you may start to wonder exactly how Obamacare came together.

For What It's Worth (Chris Fievoli) - After a lawyer loses another girlfriend to his job, he takes his friend's advice and tries out a new dating service ... run by actuaries.

The Ares Conjecture (Jerry Levy) - Peter Mir, who works for Predictive Global Conflicts, is tasked to get information from a retired actuary suffering from Alzheimer's.  While models are predicting a major incident building in the Kishrabia region, Peter hopes to find a way to diffuse the situation.  But what the retired actuary knows could change the world.

Closed Block (Ellen Torrance) - An unnamed protagonist writes in her diary as she starts a new job as President of a large insurance sub-sub-subsidiary covering North America.  She's excited with the opportunity to increase profits and get a big bonus.  However, she quickly learns that she's been shafted, and every idea she tries fails.  That is until she finds a creative way to get those profits.

The Twenty-Three (Nate Worrell) - Tom, an actuary, thinks he's about to score with a hot chick, but he doesn't realize that he's about to be abducted by a famous group of terrorists called the Twenty-three, bent on stopping the practice of gene splicing.

This last group contains a few stories that dive heavily into actuarial topics, containing not much plot beyond the ideas being presented.  As such, I predict that one would have to be an actuary to fully enjoy them.  They are nevertheless all interesting reads.

Hotel Zukunft: The Future is Different (Craig DeAlmeida) - Arthur, the ZRO at Hotel Zukunft, must find a way to explain a 10% increase of holdbacks to his superiors so that they can make the right decisions to prepare for the future.  This story is sprinkled with several different cool visions of the near future.

Two Improbable Suggestions (A. Haeworth Robertson) - Alex Morgan is an actuary who discovers an innovative new product to better calculate competitive cash surrender values on a life insurance policy.  I noticed that this exact entry also appeared in the contest 4 years ago, so I just now copied-and-pasted my previous overview.

Virtual Insurance (Rodge) - Roger must find a way to price insurance that covers the contingency of losing productivity due to getting lost in Virtual Reality games.  Even though I think this story is mainly for actuaries, I really enjoyed this one, finding it to be both intelligent and funny.  Maybe it's because I really like video games.

Blockchain Insurance Company (Gennady Stolyarov II) - While an actuary, Euclid Jefferson, travels in a self-driving car, an automated system presents to him a new type of auto insurance with very innovative policy terms.  This story provides a fun look into one possible future.