August 4th, 2001


Correctness is Hard

Well, today was a medium-successful day.
I managed to identify the cause of the discrepancies between two of our products. One of them we fixed, but one messy hack we didn't try to emulate.

One of the problems with our system is that it's often difficult to determine right answers. We can detect crashing, and that's definitely a problem. We can even be sure about infinite loops and assertion failures. But to wildly overgeneralize, when it comes to deciding "is this set of results better than this other set of results? Which one is 'right'?" we wouldn't know the right answer if it came up to us, sang a jaunty little song, and started dancing a jubilant little i-am-the-right-answer dance.

This is not quite true. We do have some methods of determining what's right, but they involve lots of user testing and evaluations. And often we're working on demo time scales, which means no time for rigorous evaluations. And so questions of system behavior get decided by whatever seems to suit whatever demo is in mind at the moment. And these decisions linger and linger.

Shortly before Clairvoyance went down the tubes, I had a fit of hack-frenzy (as described earlier) come across as I wrote a piece of e-mail, with the result that that mail ended up taking the following form:

Yes, it would be better to solve that problem in way X instead of way Y. But X is extremely difficult for these reasons...

Damn. I see how to do it. I'll do it, but under these conditions: 1) I do it during the day, not hacking late at night. ... n) Someone else decides whether this is the right thing to do, not me.

No one ever did resolve whether it was the right answer; it was implemented, and therefore it was so.

If I get another job, I would like to have a job with well-defined answers; it would make a pleasant change.

The upshot of all this: today was a day of reasonably productive hacking. It might have been better if I had gone to bed at a more reasonable hour the night before.
  • Current Music
    Enigma, The Screen Behind the Mirror

The Taxman Cometh

This isn't news of the day per se, but it's context information for my life.

Late last year, I got a great raise; so great, in fact, that I decided to buy a nice house. This involved some scrimping and saving, because although I had been saving over 10% of my income, my income indicated a larger house than my savings did.

This spring, I got laid off from my job at Clairvoyance Corporation. A company called Queria moved in with an attempt to license the technology and hire the key members of the staff. But since Queria was in a somewhat precarious financial position, they hired me as a contractor instead.

This means that I have to pay estimated quarterly income taxes and self-employment tax. (And health insurance, and so forth.)

Then in June, I got married, and I was worried about being able to afford that. So for a few months, I didn't save for quarterly income tax and self-employment tax, and saved for the wedding instead, figuring that I could make up for it with extra saving in the second half of the year.

So in July, I sat down with Quicken's tax planner, wrestled a bit, and came to the conclusion that in order to pay for all the income tax and self-employment tax I expected to owe, I would need to save about 55% of my income for the rest of the year. This is unfortunate, particularly so because I estimate our normal living expenses to be about 55% of my income. And there are house repairs and so forth that I'd like to spend money on.

Fortunately, there's a way out of this mess (at least for the short term). I only have to pay 100% of my 2000 tax liability by the end of December; I can make up the rest by April 15, 2002. And by April, I should be able to save up enough money to pay the rest.

Or rather, I should be able to save up enough money, if I'm employed by then. If I'm still a contractor, things will be very tight then. (Though somewhat less tight). In a sense, I'm only deferring the problem.

And in the meantime, I am still not able to restore the financial emergency fund that I depleted to buy the house, then to have the wedding, and now to pay taxes. I miss my emergency fund. (Though I have resources such as good credit with which I could cope if I exhaust my emergency reserves.)

Since October now, I've been feeling "If I can get by this financial crunch, then I'll be in the clear." (Where in the clear means, more or less, "able to save effectively and occasionally make significant purchases without crashing our overall savings rate.") First the house, then the wedding, and now the taxes.

It makes me sad to feel squeezed this way. And I get sad on a meta level, too--I've seen other well-to-do people (honestly, we are pretty darn well-to-do) getting into a money chase of always feeling "if we had just a bit more, everything would be all right", no matter how much they get. And I don't want to be like that. (My comfort there is that I remember feeling financially comfortable, and that gives me hope that I'll be able to feel that way again.)

Sigh. I'd like to be an employee again, with health insurance and the company paying half my self-employment tax. And a raise while I'm at it. And a pony.
  • Current Mood
    anxious anxious


One of the house projects that needs to be done is to fix the leaking drainpipe that runs under the house. This is something that should be fixed soon, because this is one of those repairs that, if not fixed, will cause damage costing five times as much.

Lori's father has suggested that if I were to dig away the earth covering the pipe, he and I could replace the pipe. Doing this would be significantly cheaper than having a plumber do it, and because of my financial crunch, cheaper has significant appeal to me.

But to me it seems like incredibly grungy and arduous work. I don't want to do it.

Which leaves me feeling embarrassed, because it seems that to Les, it's just a job. Yeah, it's an unpleasant job, but it doesn't daunt him the way it daunts me.

He says it's okay with him if I just pay to get it fixed. I believe that it's okay with him. But I feel that I'd be wussing out to do so.


I am such a geek.

I've been playing a fair bit of Minesweeper in the past few weeks. (It started when I wanted to play a game while listening to a CD, and that was one of the games I had that didn't require a CD in the drive.) But that's not why I'm a geek.

I've been missing some sleep because of Minesweeper; I stay up late playing for no coherent reason, in vain hopes of some sort of satisfaction. This is very geeky, certainly, but this wasn't my point either.

My point is this: I've started playing without marking the mines, just remembering or reconstructing where the mines are.
And I win doing this.
Even on expert mode.
And sometimes I set high scores. (though not on expert mode)

I am such a geek.
  • Current Mood


I knew there was a point I was building to with talking about taxes...

So, I'm feeling somewhat tight on cash. (This may or may no tbe necessary, but when I see financial difficulty looming, my natural reaction is for my wallet sphincter to clench down hard.

So, in order to fund my gaming acquisitions, I actually got off my duff and finished an article for Pyramid. It's a reasonably interesting article, I think, about a cyberpunk woman whose experience of the world is less like normal cyberpunk fiction and more like my experience of computers. Which is to say that for her, computers in general don't work or don't work the way she means them to.

I have high hopes for it; I've gotten three articles published before in Pyramid.

And if I take the payment in credit for sJGames merchandise, I get double the value--and there's a lot of SJGames merchandise I want right now.

A side note on the Pyramid articles: It's entirely obvious that it is far more lucrative for me to be a software hacker than a writer in the game industry. Therefore, I've tried to be very clear to myself that any money I make from writing for Pyramid is pure "mad money", to be spent at whim, without being carefully budgeted and planned. It only sort of works, because I still end up being conscious of the limits of that whim money.
  • Current Mood
    hopeful hopeful