Actuarial and IT Professionals Need Each Other

The Dance of Actuaries and IT ProfessionalsFrom developing innovative solutions to satisfying mounting compliance requirements, actuaries and IT professionals must learn to come together.

Unfortunately, both groups are often at odds. Competing priorities, resources, deliverables and even communication can cause great frustration.

Too often, they avoid each other — and to the peril of their organizations. Opportunities get lost. Mistakes become costly.

My article, “A Delicate Dance: Successfully Managing Actuarial and IT Departments,” published in the latest issue of the American Academy of Actuaries’ Contingencies magazine, identifies why both pros need each other and how they can move forward — together.

I hope you enjoy the piece. And of course, I welcome your feedback!

Actuaries Recommend Their Favorite Apps

With over one million apps available for Apple mobile devices alone, figuring out the best ones to use can be exhausting. 

My recently published article, So Many Apps, So Little Time, features app recommendations from actuaries that are really useful for anyone. Published in Contingencies magazine, the article also covers apps specifically designed for actuaries and how apps will boost actuarial productivity in the future.

Enjoy!

Question: What is your favorite app?

A Source’s Comment on my F# Article

James Roberts of Innovative Architects blogs about F# and was a major source in my F# article. I want to thank him for his kind words in his recent post, “The Sleeping Giant Has Just Awakened!” which you can find at http://fsharpblog.com.

Here is an expert from this blog:

“I was recently approached by a freelance writer, Annmarie Geddes Baribeau, to provide input on the technologies used by Actuaries.  Of course labeling Ms. Baribeau as a “writer” is an injustice to her talents.  I’ve worked with Ms. Baribeau in the past and her work in the Insurance and Actuarial fields is renown.  She is one of those people that never fails to complete her due diligence when performing research for her articles.  She has the uncanny ability to understand the very technical aspects of development, despite the fact she is not a programmer.  She is a true “Thought Leader”.  I can’t even begin to give her the kudos she deserves and when I was asked the “Actuarial Technology” question, naturally I thought of what they (Actuarial technologists and Insurance IT) should be using instead of what they are using.  I replied with complete conviction that she should let them know about the power of F#.ArticleCoverSo given my enthusiasm and my background in F#, she picked up the story and ran with it. As I expected the research was not easy, but given her undaunted perseverance, she ended up communicating with top “brainiacs” in Cambridge who developed the F# language.  No not Cambridge, Massachusetts, Cambridge England!  She found people and resources I never imagined.   She also found very talented developers with the same frustration I had with my former employer.  That of discovering a great platform that was so well suited for handling Actuarial models and yet, having a backward thinking management hierarchy that refused to consider its benefits.  Again I digress….

“Today’s blog update is not to give you the summary of an already impeccably researched and well written article on F#.  Rather I wanted to provide you encouragement to keep refining your talents in this language and to realize it is only a matter of time before you’re skills will be recognized.  As I had believed when I started to learn about F#, its breakthrough as a “mainstream language” will most likely begin within an Actuarial context.  Ms. Baribeau’s article may be just the nudge necessary to provide some technologists in the Insurance industry the motivation and justification to consider utilizing these tools within their next projects.

“Personally, it has been a frustrating and lonely road to recognize the benefits of F# and it’s potential to save companies thousands of dollars.  Hopefully, this article in Contingencies Magazine will first help us (F# developers) make inroads with the Actuaries and then the insurance industry as a whole.  Once people begin to realize what they can do and what they can save, other industries will follow and begin looking for F# talent.  They will begin to realize that those models and software that cut so deeply in their department’s budget can begin to be shelved.”

Thanks so much James! I do appreciate your kind words!

Discovering the Power of F#

F# has the potential to be a game changer in the U.S. insurance industry, according to my article, A Sharp New Analytical Tool, which was just published in Contingencies’ software supplement.

If you have never heard of F#, you are not alone. It was developed in England for mathematical and analytic computations. The Microsoft programming language enjoys a larger following in Europe, where banks and insurers are already using it.

Our nation’s banking industry is already enjoying the benefits of F#, and insurance companies are likely to follow.

Grange Insurance’s experience offers a window into the industry’s future. Insurance agents are able to immediately offer quotes while the insurer can offer new products, pricing structures and experiment with predictive modeling.

The Columbus, Ohio-based property/casualty insurer got hip to F# in 2008 while it was still part of Microsoft Research. The programming language is a step beyond the better-known C#, provides faster and more accurate results than SAS and offers several advantages over the much-beloved R language.

But that is just the beginning. To learn more about F# and its potential, please read my article by clicking here.

Like what you see? Then follow me!

Why I am Never Buying a Dell Product Again!!!

Dell_Sucks_by_Wolverine080976Once upon a time, small businesses relied on Dell Computers. Once offering excellent products, it was hailed for its customer service  — 10 years ago.

But now, Dell’s products are worse than anything that ever came out of Yugoslavia. Dell’s “customer service” rivals any government bureaucracy in the free world.

I write part-time as a sole proprietor. When something goes wrong, I have to deal with it directly. This takes away valuable opportunity costs. When I should be building a customer base, providing services and otherwise being productive, I have spent countless hours dealing with the nice Dell contractors whose English is still a work in progress.

I bought a printer in July. It was $500 and a huge investment given my annual income as a part-time writer. At first, during the 30-day period I had to return the machine and get my money back, it worked fine.

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Dell’s “customer service” rivals any government bureaucracy in the free world.
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But if anything happens after that magic 30 days, forget ever getting your money back. Not long after I bought the printer, Apple updated its software and the scanner quit working.

Did Dell honor its customers by updating the software? No. Instead, Dell’s tech support advised me to “keep checking” for updates yet to happen nearly five months later.  The techies gave me two “work-arounds” until then. The FAX part does not work correctly either, so I can only fax items but cannot send them.

Now the print tray also needs to be “worked around.” When I hired an outside consult to fix the printer, he explained that there is something mechanically wrong with the tray so it gives a false error message. The only thing I can do is pull out and then push in the tray every time I print. This is unacceptable for a printer less than a year old.

So I called today, explained how I have patiently tried to adapt to all this unreasonable silliness. I told them I have lost far more money in lost work than in the price of the printer and the least and honest thing Dell should do is accept the defective product and return my money.

It turns out I would have done better putting the $500 in my bank account even though it barely pays interest, which is gets eaten away by taxes anyway.

Both gentlemen politely read from the same script explaining Dell’s third-world return policy. Translation: Buyer Beware! Get a lemon from Dell and you are stuck.

Apparently, the one-year warrantee on the product gives me the privilege of bonding with my new best friends in India and Bangladesh for free. After this, I can buy an extended warrantee to pay for the privilege.

I should have known better. The laptop I bought in 2009 was a dud and a computer friend of mine could not resolve the issues despite endless Dell tech support time. It was never as reliable as the one I bought in 2005 or the two PCs I bought in 2003 and 2007.

We often blame government for being hard on small business. But companies like Dell make a profit at dishonoring trusting customers.

I am not alone. The Internet is a bastion of ignored pleas for Dell help. If Dell will come to its senses and help me, I am happy to sing its praises like I did TurboTax in a former blog.

Burned by Dell? Like the “Dell Sucks” Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/groups/367476813294288/members/

P.S. My HP 1320, which I bought 10 years ago, and my HP 9800, which I bought six years ago, work great! They just don’t scan or FAX, just like my new Dell four-in-one! Thank God for my old reliable HP printers!

Why I Love My IBM Selectric

My “new” IBM Selectric arrived last week.

Big, beautiful and sexy red, my fiancée Alan remembered I had always wanted one. Like me, he appreciates the value of retro equipment. He collects pinball machines.

My friends laugh at me, wondering why I would want the heavy industrial-weight machine.

“You can do everything you need on a computer,” my friends laughed, as if I have not been using those for a quarter century already.

The scoffers do not understand that there is no substitute for the IBM Selectric for quickly achieving certain tasks. There are times when I just want to dash out a label, envelope or quick note.

With my Selectric, there is no going through endless windows and inserting something “just right” to produce what I need. Moving a mouse or selecting control “P” doesn’t apply.  Each keystroke is instant.

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Sliding the black “on” button forward,
I heard the hum of my red productive beast.

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The proprietor from A to Z Typewriter Company brought her in and smiled at my delight.

He understood. The tried-and-true typing machine is in such high demand, he said, that he quit selling all matter of business machines.

There is high demand for good old-fashioned typewriters, he explained. Secretaries do not want to part with them. Schools want them for typing classes.

And there are people like me, who lack the patience to go through windows, give explicit instructions and load labels and envelopes “just right” into often quirky printers.

Sliding the black “on” button forward, I heard the hum of my red productive beast. I excitedly put a piece of paper in the typewriter, snapping the lever firmly into place. Memories of my old typing days flooded my mind. It all came back to me, like getting on a bicycle.

My fingers securely glided into the concave keys, my felt the hum of my red productivity beast. As I typed whatever came to mind, I felt the assuring punch of each keystroke.

In satisfying glee, I typed away and quickly made a typing error. I forgot how to use the backspace correct button! It did work, the gentlemen explained, but not on my computer gloss paper. I would need to purchase good, old-fashioned typewriting paper for it to work perfectly. I laughed knowing that I had typewriter paper saved for this day. But alas, it was packed away in a box somewhere.

Progress does not always mean better. Of course, the computer, with its demanding endless treadmill of upgrades and corresponding nuisances, reigns supreme for most tasks. My Selectric only asks that I keep it clean, dust-free and oiled.

And while surrounded by plastic mother board machines that offer so much more, my Selectric knows its industrial steel strength will outlast the planned obsolesce of its office neighbors. It is a reminder of days long gone when manufacturers employed Americans to pridefully make products to last. Such solidity has been dwarfed by our consumerist economy that exploits workers to make cheap products destined for the landfills that liter the beauty of rural America. We pay a lot for junk, and China laughs all the way to the bank.

I was born to write and will do so until my aged body and mind releases its last word. Like my great-grandmother’s Treadle sewing machine, my Selectric will faithfully be there for generations to come.

Learning to Love My New Macintosh Computer

My friends with Macintosh computers are in love.  But I am not there yet.

Saddled with a dying, virus-weakened PC, I took the plunge and purchased an iMac in December. Love often begins with attraction. I was drawn in by the huge screen, its promise of easier graphic design and multitasking. How could I resist the hope of living in a virus-free world even temporarily, knowing that someday evil forces will crack the Mac, and innocence will be lost.

With assurances that conversion from the PC to the Mac, including data transfer, would be easy, I took home my first Mac. Data transfer, however, was not easy.

Once I figured out that the “command” key is the equivalent of the “control” key on a PC, I started making the Mac my primary computer.  But then there was also the optional Magic Trackpad to get used to. The mouse replacement is a flat pad with its own sign language. It requires me to learn to use one, two, three or four fingers depending on how I want it to move within a document and among other open windows.

It is kinda cool, as all Mac products have that “cool” factor to them. But I still have not mastered it, so I cannot report the “Wow” factor as of yet. The track pad also requires me to click a bit harder, which has aggravated a right wrist already weary of two-plus decades of mouse clicking. Benefitting the most from the Mac requires a complete conversion to its world. I don’t have an iPhone. While my carrier now carries the phone, I am contract-locked. So, I will have to wait to fall in love with the symbiotic connection between my computer and phone. Let’s not forget the iPad. Living without one in today’s world is a miracle in and of itself!

My delicious 27” window to the world became a brick wall once I asked my iMac to fulfill the demands of my PC. But how could it, when there are still many PC programs not Mac ready? Mac does offer new applications for free or at little expense. Some programs are less expensive than those I bought for the PC, but the prospect of replacing everything at once is daunting and costly. It took me years to replace my cassette tapes with CDs.

For the $2,000 I paid, it would have been nice to actually get a book that explained everything, including how to use it and what it can do. But those of us who still like to read on paper are outmoded. Instead I bought a book from an independent author.

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My delicious 27” window to the world became a brick wall once I asked
my iMac to fulfill the demands of my PC.

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I did finally attend a free class at the Mac store. The trainers, young enough to be the children of the three attendees, were friendly and helpful. They are as comfortable in front of computer screens as I am with books and paper.

They encouraged me to experiment and go online to get specific questions answered. “Oh, sure,” I thought. “I have plenty of time to play on my computer amid raising my children, keeping house and running a business. No problem!”

I am still waiting to fall in love with my Mac. I am hopeful that I will. In the meantime, I use both computers.

If you are considering making the conversion to the Mac, my advice is to prepare. Clear off your schedule so you can spend a lot of time getting to know it.

When my schedule clears, I am going on vacation!