Kölner R User Meeting 30 March 2012

Panorama of Cologne by Elke Wetzig. Source: Wikipedia, License: CC-BY-SA

Am 30. März 2012 möchte ich gerne das erste Kölner R Benutzer Treffen organisieren. Ich habe an den Treffen in London in den vergangen Jahren teilgenommen und hoffe auch in Köln Gleichgesinnte zu finden, die sich gerne bei einem Kölsch über R and das Leben unterhalten würden.

I would like to organise the first R user group meeting in Cologne, Germany, on 30 March 2012. In the past few years I have participated at the London R user groups and I hope to find also like-minded people in Cologne, who would like to catch up over a Kölsch on R and life in general.

Bitte geben Sie mir bescheid wenn Sie vorbei kommen möchten. Es erleichtert die Planung. Vorschläge für einen Vortrag werden gerne entgegengenommen.

Themen zu denen ich beisteuern kann sind zum Beispiel R in der Versicherungswelt, Daten Visualisierung, R im Zusammenspiel mit Datenbanken, LaTeX und MS Office.

Weitere Informationen werde ich später auf dieser Seite bereitstellen.

Please let me know if you would like to come along. It helps with the planning. I would very much appreciate suggestions for talks.

Topics on which I can contribute are for example R in the insurance industry, data visualisation, using R with data bases, LaTeX and MS Office.

I will provide further information and updates and the following page.

Landslides and mud-slides: NOT covered by a standard homeowners policy

The New York Times has an interesting story today about a significant hazard here in the rainy Pacific Northwest: mudslides.

Mudslides and landslides, the article notes, are "a topographical drama less spectacular but far more common than the potentially deadly earthquakes, avalanches and tsunamis that loom in anxious minds across the Pacific Northwest."

And here's what many homeowners don't know: mudslides and landslides aren't covered by a standard homeowners policy. So it can be very difficult to collect for losses caused by any form of land movement unless you bought specific additional riders or policies, like these:

Landslide coverage: You may be able to buy a special rider for your homeowners policy that includes coverage for contents for all perils, including earth movement. But this type of rider only covers contents, not the structure, and some insurers don't offer this option at all. For the structure, you may be able to buy separate earth-movement coverage from what's known as the "surplus lines" market, meaning insurers who specialize in risks that the traditional insurance industry doesn't cover. But if your home is on a hillside, it may be difficult to get this kind of coverage.

Flood insurance: Flood insurance may apply to some kinds of earth movement, such as water-related erosion, mudflows or flash floods. Most homeowners seeking flood coverage start with the National Flood Insurance Program, which is federally run but sold by local agents and brokers.

Earthquakes: Quake damage is another category of risk not covered in a standard homeowners policy, but you can buy this coverage to protect against losses from an earthquake -- or quake-triggered landslides.

Job opening: Actuary

We have a job opening for a full-time, permanent actuary at our main office in Tumwater.

The person will be reviewing health and disablity insurance rate filings, as well as helping our company supervision divisions financial analysis work. For a full description of the job, salary range, benefits, etc., please see the job listing.

Show me the data! Or how to digitize plots

I had mentioned the Guardian's data blog and the need for more data journalism earlier here. What I really like about the Guardian's approach in particular is that they share the data of their articles and encourage readers to use it.

Of course there are perfectly valuable reasons for only displaying a chart and not making the underlying data available, e.g. to generate leads, as potential customers may get in touch with you asking for the underlying data, or technology issues that don't allow you to upload data, etc.

I personally believe that when I show a chart I should also make the underlying data available. Pretty pictures give you the attention, but the underlying data will offer you an opportunity to engage with your reader on a different level. This might be similar to open source software. In most cases users don't want to see and read the code, but having the knowledge that they could provides more credibility.

Screen shot of plot digitizer using Guy Carpenter's
global property catastrophe rate on line index

Here is another reason why I should make the data available: Because it is easy to extract the data from a chart anyhow, thanks to digitizing software like the Java application plot digitizer. While in the past I may have used graph paper and a ruler, nowadays it only takes a few minutes to extract the information.

Insurance companies and agents fined

We'll be posting a news release on this shortly, but we've issued the following fines and other enforcement actions:
  • Fidelity National Title Insurance Co. and Chicago Title Insurance Co.: Fined $100,000 for wrongfully offering discount club memberships to people who were in a position to send title business to the companies.
  • Aetna Life Insurance Co.: Fined $20,000 for failing to promptly handle appeals from consumers.
  • Charter Warranty Services, Inc., Mechanical Breakdown Protection, Inc., and Paul Pawlusiak, of Detroit, Mich.: Ordered to stop selling unauthorized motor vehicle service contacts.
  • Scott L. Stevens and RV Protection.net, of Mill Creek: Ordered to stop acting as an agent for a service contract provider not authorized to do business in Washington state.
  • Cynthia L. Rushing, of Spokane: License revoked for misappropriating funds.
  • Trevor D’Jon Losse, of Cle Elum: Fined $1,000 for multiple violations, including failing to disclose other state disciplinary actions against him.
  • Robert Tychsen, of El Cajon, Calif.: Fined $1,750 for selling insurance in Washington without a license.
  • Douglas D. Wellsandt, of Hayden, Idaho: Fined $5,000 for violations including falsely stating that Washington policies had been sold in Idaho.
  • Ross S. Wolf, of Sammamish: Fined $2,000 for violations including acting as an insurance company’s agent without having been appointed by the company.
Orders and details about these cases are posted online at www.insurance.wa.gov/orders/enforcement.asp.

The fines collected do not go to the agency. They are deposited in the state's general fund to pay for other state services.
Washington consumers with questions, problems or complaints can call us at 1-800-562-6900 or e-mail AskMike@oic.wa.gov. (Not in Washington? Here's how to reach your state's insurance regulator.)

A company that insured the Titanic goes under, leaving behind maritime relics

The Wall Street Journal's Leslie Scism has a story today about Atlantic Mutual, the company that insurered the Titanic and many other ships for more than a century, before the company was ordered into liquidation two years ago.

The story details the maritime artifacts and records amassed by the company. Many of the items -- model ships, paintings, old maps, gold coins, barometers, etc. -- may be sold soon.

Tacoma man sentenced to prison for insurance fraud, forgery

A Tacoma man has been sentenced to more than two years in prison for insurance fraud and forgery after filing a false auto insurance claim.

Cash B. Knott, 46, was sentenced Friday in Pierce County Superior Court to 29 months in prison and must pay $1,200 in costs and assessments. He pleaded guilty in January to two counts of forgery and one count of felony insurance fraud.

On Nov. 6th, less than a month after getting coverage from Progressive Direct Insurance Co. for his 1992 Ford Ranger pickup, Knott filed a $5,674 insurance claim with Progressive. He said someone had scratched the paint, stolen his chrome wheels and tires, and stolen his navigation and entertainment system, 1,000 watt amplifier and other electronic components.

He provided Progressive with a Sept. 2 stereo shop invoice for $4,547.84 worth of stereo equipment, a copy of his check, and a bank statement showing the withdrawal from his checking account.

The problem: When contacted by an insurance adjuster, the stereo shop said it had no record of such a purchase. All they could find was that Knott had bought an amplifier -- for $109 -- on Sept. 2.

Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler's Special Investigations Unit obtained a search warrant for Knott's bank records. The bank found no checks written to the stereo shop, and none whatsoever for $4,547.84.

Big data seminar in London on 1 March 2012

Removable disk packs in 1975. By Eugen Nosko
Source: Wikipedia, via Deutsche Fotothek
License: CC-BY-SA

David Chan from City University is organising an interdisciplinary symposium on tackling the ‘Big Data’ challenge on 1 March 2012.

It is an open seminar trying to bring together academics and practitioners from across industry to tackle the challenges posed by "big data" - the growing amount of information that needs to be stored, searched, analysed and visualised in the digital age.

The event will take place in the Oliver Thompson Lecture Theatre, Northampton Square, London EC1V 0HB. Booking is required if you would like to attend. For more details check out the event page.

See you there.

Homeowners insurance: What's NOT covered

People often assume that homeowners insurance is a catch-all, covering virtually any event.

Not true, unfortunately. There are many things that a typical homeowners policy does NOT cover. Among them:
  • floods
  • earthquakes
  • breaks in a water line leading to your home
  • termites
  • stolen pets
  • damaged or stolen cars, boats and motorcycles (these would typically be covered, however, by your car/boat/etc. insurance)
Also, here's a list of what IS covered by a typical homeowners policy, as well as add-ons you might want to consider.

Reshaping the IT world

During my university time I worked on the IT help desk for a while. One day I received a call from a professor, who said that his printer had stopped working. So I asked him, if there was a message on the display and if he could read it to me. "Oh yes", he said, "it says: 'Load A4 paper.'"

Rachel King quotes a study by Cisco on ZDnet, which believes to have found out that college students and young employees under the age of 30 would rather take a lower salary than having no social media freedom, device flexibility and work mobility.

It feels like the 1960's in a lot of offices and IT departments of today. A younger generation is demanding more freedom and fun. It just not called rock music, mini skirts or of course the anti baby pill, which the generation of my professor was fighting for. That's all established now. It is the digital equivalent of those rights and I can understand that IT departments are concerned about this.

Read more »

Cease and desist order issued for "Prolong Plus" auto warranties

A New Jersey-based company selling vehicle warranties paired with engine additives has been ordered to stop selling unauthorized vehicle warranties in Washington state. The order takes effect immediately.
The Choice Manufacturing Company, Inc., also known as The Choice Warranty, Inc., is not authorized to sell vehicle service contracts in Washington. Their application was denied in 2008 because they didn't meet several requirements of the state's insurance law.

Despite that denial, however, the company continued to sell its "Prolong Plus" vehicle warranty in Washington. When state officials investigated, the company and principal Peter Masi refused to provide information or cooperate.

Our office has received several complaints from people who bought the warranties. Each said that the company had wrongly denied claims.

The Prolong Plus warranty requires consumers to put additives in their car radiators, engine oil, air conditioning or batteries. The additives are manufactured by Choice Manufacturing.

What if you live in Washington and bought one of these warranties? Even though the warranty was not legally sold here, the company is still required to honor the terms of the contract.

Update: On Aug. 6, 2012, the company agreed to pay a $10,000 fine.

Most and least expensive cars to insure

Insure.com is out with its annual list of the most- and least-expensive cars to insure. (Scroll down after clicking that link to reach the table listing the cars.)

Among the cheapest to insure: minivans, small SUVs, and some large pickup trucks. The lowest-cost vehicle to insure is the Toyota Sienna.

The most expensive will come as no surprise. The list, topped by the Audi R8 Spyder Quattro convertible, is dominated by expensive European sports cars.

The folks at PropertyCasualty360.com, an industry news site, put together a short slideshow with the top cars in each category.

Give us your feedback

We're tuning up our agency website (not this blog; we've already done that part) and would love to get your feedback.

Our survey takes less than a minute. Please take a quick look at the site and give us your thoughts.

Thank you!

The Guy With The Scalpel? He's My Attorney!

Frank O. had been an agent for over twenty years the day I started with Prudential in October of 1979. My desk was next to his. Fifteen months later I was his manager and my desk was in a private office. I asked to spend a day in the field with Frank, not because he needed me, not even because he wanted me. At best, Frank tolerated me. No, I needed to learn what he was doing and how he had survived for so long as an agent.

The first stop was a longtime client of Frank’s. Climbing up the front steps, I noticed that my employee was walking to the side door. The side door? Frank reminded me that we were not related to the client. We weren’t family. We weren’t their friends. We were service providers and service providers enter via the side door.

It was at that moment that I realized how little I knew about the insurance business.

I was reminded of that humbling experience as I watched President Obama and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius stumble, again, as they attempted to control the delivery and payment of health care. The biggest difference was that I, at age 26, realized how much I had to learn. Our President and his staff seem surprised that their frequent missteps are so apparent and so unacceptable.

My last post, The Ongoing Religious Battle, addressed the Obama administration’s decision to classify Birth Control Pills, IUD’s, the Morning After Pill, and some forms of Sterilization as preventive Care. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) includes a provision that preventive care is FREE. That is the government’s definition of affordable, FREE.

The predicted firestorm erupted. The Vice-President and other committed Catholics in the administration had warned of problems. The White House Chief of Staff resigned. Last Friday the President announced his solution. As long as you don’t care about the moral implications, the money, how insurance works, or intellectual honesty – it was the perfect compromise.

Everything is still free. The insurance company will pay for it.

(Before we go any further, let me assert that I am totally in favor of most forms of birth control and voluntary sterilization. Let me also remind you that this has nothing to do with me, personally. This is about us, all of us.)

It only took a few hours for the double talk of the compromise to become apparent. Senator Roy Blount (R-MO) quickly released a statement via email. It stated, in part:

It’s clear that President Obama does not understand that it isn’t about the cost – it’s about who controls the religious views of faith-based institutions. President Obama believes that he should have that control. Our Constitution states otherwise.
Just because you can come up with an accounting gimmick and pretend like religious institutions do not have to pay for the mandate, does not mean that you’ve satisfied the fundamental constitutional freedoms all Americans are guaranteed.

A little dramatic? Perhaps. I suspect that the Supreme Court will be the final arbiter as to whether this crosses the line. But, Senator Blount was absolutely right when he called out the President for his sleight of hand.

The insurance companies are just going to pay for Birth Control Pills, IUD’s, the Morning After Pill, and certain forms of sterilization? Really? How do they show that on their books? These are claims that are eventually paid by the employer. And of course, large employers, such as hospitals and universities, are often self-insured. The insurance company simply processes the claims and organizes the market.

President Obama decided that insulting observant Catholics and other people of faith wasn’t enough. He decided to insult our intelligence, too. The President declared that insurance companies should pay for Birth Control Pills, IUD’s, the Morning After Pill, and even sterilizations from company coffers because it will save them money. By eating these costs, the insurers won’t be paying for unwanted, unplanned pregnancies. Ignoring the fact that it isn’t the insurer’s money or responsibility, perhaps we should take this to its illogical extreme. If we want to save money and eliminate unwanted and unplanned pregnancies, why don’t we have the insurers hand out chastity belts? Of course that’s silly, but it is no less honest nor illogical as the President’s suggestion.

It is time to remind you that none of this is about contraception, women’s rights, or even preventive care. It is about creating an environment where private insurance becomes unaffordable and only a government solution will work. Whether that is by accident or on purpose is for you to decide. But if you have someone restructuring the delivery and payment of health care in this country who doesn’t understand the basics of the market and insurance, you might as well have your attorney remove your appendix.



Surpluses of nonprofit health insurers in WA at $2.4 billion

The Seattle Times had a story today about a change in the law we've proposed.

The background: Washington's three major health insurers -- all of whom are non-profit companies -- have amassed surpluses totalling more than $2.4 billion.

Commissioner Kreidler is asking lawmakers to let him consider those surpluses when the companies propose increases in health insurance premiums. The That, hopefully, could ease future premium hikes. In the individual and small group markets, insurance premiums, on average, have more than doubled since 2005.

The bill is SB 5247. It has cleared a key committee and is currently in the Senate's Rules Committee.

The reshape function

The other day I wrote about the R functions by, apply and friends, which allow me to operate on subsets of data. All those functions work nicely, if the data is given in the right format. More often than not it isn't and I have to reshape the data beforehand. Thus, time to discuss the reshape function. I will focus on the reshape function in base R, and not the package of the same name.

I use Fischer's iris data set again, as it is readily available after starting R. The iris data set has 150 observation and the first 6 rows look like this:

Sepal.Length Sepal.Width Petal.Length Petal.Width Species
1 5.1 3.5 1.4 0.2 setosa
2 4.9 3.0 1.4 0.2 setosa
3 4.7 3.2 1.3 0.2 setosa
4 4.6 3.1 1.5 0.2 setosa
5 5.0 3.6 1.4 0.2 setosa
6 5.4 3.9 1.7 0.4 setosa

I would like to create a box whisker plot, showing the measurements of the observations for each of the species, as in the chart below.

Read more »

How to look up the number of complaints against an insurance company

We've created an easy online tool to look up the number of complaints against insurance companies.

We're the insurance regulator in Washington state, so the data's only for our state. But it can provide some insight into who we hear a lot of complaints about, and who we don't.

Since the market share of these companies varies widely, we also calculate what we call the "complaint index." That's simply the ratio of complaints divided by market share, to make the results easy to compare.

Survey: 57 percent of people in low-income families have no health insurance

The Commonwealth Fund today released the results of a new survey on the uninsured. Among the group's findings:
  • 57 percent of people in low-income families (those earning less than about $30,000 for a family of 4) had no health insurance at some point last year.
  • 35 percent have been uninsured for two years or more.
  • Among moderate-income adults (about $30,000 to $56,000 for a family of 4), some 36 percent of adults in those families were uninsured during the past year.
None of this should come as a surprise. We do our own report on the uninsured in Washington state, and income is by far the largest factor correlated to being uninsured. The less you make, the more likely it is that you don't have health insurance.

We've also found that in most income brackets, the younger you are, the more likely that you're uninsured. See the report link above for more data and details.

Car sharing and usage-based insurance bills move forward

Everyone in Washington state is required to have basic liability insurance if you own a car. Well, here's two bills that could impact how you get insurance and how much you pay for coverage.

The first, House Bill 2384, creates an insurance framework for peer-to-peer car sharing programs. Several other western states (OR, CA) have passed similar bills. Here's how it would work: You sign-up with a program to share your car when you're not using it. Your financial liability for the car transfers to the program during the time it's in use. Of course you still need insurance coverage for when you're driving your car, but the program is responsible for having insurance coverage for any car in its use. The bill report has all of the details if you want to know more.

Next is an issue we've seen before: Usage-based insurance (House Bill 2361). Nothing prevents an insurance company from creating a usage-based insurance product today, but under our state law, all auto insurance products and why they cost what they do is public once the premiums are approved by our office.

Certain information is considered confidential (ie. those pesky credit scoring models) but only if they've been carved out in state law. This bill would allow insurers who want to offer a usage-base product the ability to keep their products confidential. Also, there would be limits on how the insurance company could use your information and they couldn't sell it to anyone.

So why should you care? Well, you could get your rates reduced depending on how you drive. This means: the amount of miles, where you drive, the time of the day you drive, your speed, etc. Of course it goes both ways - if you have a lead foot or tend to brake hard, you could see your rates go up. Here's the full details.

Both bills must pass a February 14 deadline to stay alive.

Job openings: Actuary, investigator, HR consultant, etc.

We have four job openings, although some of the application deadlines are coming up soon. (Check each listing for the deadline, some may have closed by the time you're reading this.) We're looking for:
We're a small agency, but we do have job openings periodically. Most are due to retirements or resignations, rather than new positions. When we have job openings, we post them on our jobs page, as well as on the state's careers.wa.gov site.

googleVis 0.2.14 is released

Version 0.2.14 of the googleVis package was released on CRAN today.


The help files have been checked against changes of the Google Visualisation API, typos in the vignette have been ironed out (thanks to Pat Burns for pointing them out), a new section on dealing with apostrophes in column names has been added and the example in the section "Setting options" has been reviewed. For more details and demos check out the project site.

New Feature

Additionally a new visualisation function has been added: gvisBubbleChart, which provides an interface to the bubble chart of the Google Visualisation API. You could think of it as a static version of the motion chart. Here are some examples, followed by a motion chart.


P <- lapply(2008:2010, function(x)
gvisBubbleChart(subset(Fruits, Year %in% x), idvar="Fruit",
xvar="Sales", yvar="Expenses",
colorvar="Location", sizevar="Profit",
options=list(width=400, height=300,
colors='["#B2EE2C", "#3F4FFF"]',
title=paste("Fruit data ",x,", bubble size reflects profit", sep=""),
sizeAxis="{minValue: 0, maxSize: 12}",
vAxis=paste("{title: 'Expenses', viewWindow:{min:65, max:95},",
"baselineColor:'#EEEEEE', gridlines:{color:'#EEEEEE'}}"),
hAxis=paste("{title: 'Sales', viewWindow:{min:70, max:115},",
"baselineColor:'#EEEEEE', gridlines:{color:'#EEEEEE'}}")
bubbleCharts <- gvisMerge(P[[1]], gvisMerge(P[[2]], P[[3]]))

M <- gvisMotionChart(Fruits, "Fruit", "Year",
options=list(width=430, height=360))
plot(gvisMerge(bubbleCharts, M))

Insurers and agents fined more than $1.3 million in 2011

Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler fined insurance companies, agents and brokers more than $1.3 million in 2011.

Violations included wrongly denying medical claims, overcharging customers, misappropriating clients’ money, charging unapproved rates and submitting false documents.

“These cases are the exception, not the rule,” said Kreidler, who’s been the state’s insurance regulator since 2001. “The vast majority of insurers, agents and brokers comply with the law.”

The largest fine, issued in January 2011, was against six Chubb & Son subsidiaries, which were ordered to pay $534,000 for violations including a long-running pattern of failing to properly document why the companies were charging higher or lower rates for certain policyholders.

Other major fines included $100,000 from American Bankers Insurance Co. of Florida (June 2011) and $100,000 from Regence BlueShield (August 2011).

Over the past 11 years, Kreidler has issued more than $13 million in fines against insurers, agents and brokers who violated the law. The agency’s disciplinary orders are posted online at http://www.insurance.wa.gov/orders/enforcement.asp.

Fines collected by the insurance commissioner’s office do not go to the agency. The money is deposited in the state’s general fund to pay for other state services.

The Ongoing Religious Battle

Can you force your employees to live YOUR creed? More importantly, can you make it unpleasant and expensive for your employees to break your personal religion’s rules? The answer, as it is so often, is Yes and No.

Preventive Care is a key benefit of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). Katherine Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services, recently decided that Birth Control Pills, IUD’s, and the Morning After Pill are all FDA approved forms of contraception and as valid a part of preventive care for women as mammograms and Pap tests.

The PPACA therefore forces employers to not only cover Birth Control Pills, IUD’s, and the Morning After Pill, but it also eliminates the copays for these items. They are free to the insured employee. This shifts the cost for these items to the insurance which in turn shifts the cost to the employer.

So, if you own a factory and you are opposed to these forms of birth control, you will soon be paying for your employees’ pills. Fair? Most of us will say Yes. We don’t want our employers to dictate moral positions to us.

But what if we aren’t talking about a factory? What if we are discussing a church or a church funded organization? Is there a difference? According to the Obama administration, the answer is No. Every employee has a right to preventive care and preventive care includes birth control. The Supreme Court may disagree.

We are constantly trying to define property rights in this country. Ron Paul takes the Libertarian position that the government doesn’t have the right to force you to conform to other people’s wishes. If you don’t want to serve African-Americans in your restaurant, the market should push you to reconsider, not the law. That is one extreme. The other extreme has the government involved in many of the day to day decisions of businesses. This involvement manifests itself in smoking bans in bars, the elimination of trans fats in restaurants, and forcing businesses to not only provide health insurance, but to determine the very nature of the coverage. This is where we are again.

Where is the line? Can the Catholic Church, which is adamantly opposed to most contraceptives, limit access to its priests, nuns, and church employees? Can the Church limit access to the employees, Catholic and non-Catholic, of its schools? What about Catholic hospitals that may employ hundreds of non-Catholics? How much influence is the employer granted?

The Supreme Court, in a 9 – 0 decision, recently ruled that the First Amendment “gives special solicitude to the rights of religious organizations” in how they treat their employees. This decision was reached in response to a lawsuit brought by a teacher who had been terminated by her employer, a Lutheran school. Chief Justice Roberts challenged “government interference with an internal church decision that affects faith and the mission of the church itself”.

Will the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act allow you to provide access to birth control for all of your full-time employees? Yes. Will you as an employer pay for it? Yes. Will you be forced to provide access if you don’t want to? If you are a business the answer is still Yes. If you are a church or a religious based institution, the jury is still out.