Is debugging a sport?

This morning, as I was reading the sports section of the Murky Nooz, I saw a weird little ad on page 4. The ad opened with “What follows is the software documentation required by customers of Voice Signature LLC” and concluded with a list of 256 words, each with an associated hex code.

I looked at their website and found out what they were doing (providing a way for someone to speak a hash fingerprint). But I can’t figure out why they’d pay good money to the Merc to print this list instead of posting it on their webpage, nor why they’d put it in sports rather than, say, business.

I guess I shouldn’t read the paper before I have my coffee.

Their math is as accurate as their political judgements

Last week, I happened to see an item on CNBC about an article to be printed in the weekend Wall Street Journal claiming that, for people within 5-10 years of retirement, it would be better to save in a taxable account than in a tax-deferred account (IRA or 401(k)) because the higher tax rate when you withdraw from the tax-deferred account (35% rather than 15%, in their example) would put you behind what you’d gain from the deferral.

I tried out the math, and it didn’t make any sense — if you had, say, $10,000 available, the advantage of investing the full $10,000 instead of $6,500 after-tax far outweighted the lower tax later on.

So I asked my broker, who sent me the article (here (behind a paywall, of course). And, buried about 2/3 of the way through the article, was the explanation:

This example assumes that the executive can afford an upfront tax hit…to put $100,000 in a taxable account, she would have to earn about $154,000.

Well, gee…comparing putting aside $154,000 versus $100,000, it’s not too surprising that the bigger allotment would produce better results — that extra $54,000 buys you a lower tax rate later on. But you’d still come out better if you could put the whole $154,000 in pre-tax.

There are, of course, other considerations, such as the fact that money in a taxable account isn’t subject to minimum distributions — but nonetheless, having to kick in an extra 54% to get the same results is significant.

Amazingly enough, this article wasn’t even on the editorial page, where facts are routinely ignored. It was in the “Personal Journal” section. Consider yourself warned.

Check these books out!

I’ve read a couple of interesting books in the last week or so, and thought they were worth writing about.

The King David Report is a very interesting retelling of the stories of David and Solomon, as if they’d happened in a society where the government would do anything to shore up its image and control. The author, Stefan Heym, was a Nazi refugee who came to the US, fought in the Korean War, and then returned to East Germany, and that background was evident in the book. But I could also see echoes of post-9/11 America, and that was frightening. Recommended.

I saw Great Feuds in Mathematics on the display of new books at the IBM Almaden library, and thought it was an odd book for them to buy, so I checked it out. It was fascinating; I’d heard of most of the mathematicians, of course (I was a math major at RPI, not that I’ve ever used any of the math courses I took there), but I’d never realized how much bitterness and rivalry there was in the field. I devoured the book in two evenings; it was a fun read, and the final chapter, talking about the three current schools in mathematics, was all new to me. Also recommended.

Report Card Time

Jeff got his first semester report card today, and we’re all pretty happy about it.

I couldn’t help noticing one big difference between the kind of teacher feedback he gets from Kehillah and what he got from public school (especially since I found his middle school report cards this morning). Here’s a comment on today’s report card:

To say that Jeff has had a lot to do this semester would be an understatement. He plays three roles in Tartuffe, including the title role — this has been quite a task, but one I truly believed Jeff was up for. And he has not let me down (or anyone else, for that matter). His work is very good and he is doing things that show his growth as both an actor and a comedian. As he is the President of Mish-Mosh, this is a very cool thing….

Compare that to a typical comment from his public school report card:

Gd. beat; can dnc to it.