Category Archives: Recomended

Things to know about retirement, USA, married couples.

#1  Can one spouse can retire with the other spouse’s social security benefit?

Yes, a surviving spouse can choose to use their own Social Security Insurance* (SSI) benefit OR their deceased spouse’s SSI benefit – whichever is larger. But not both. SSI was created when a many (but not all) women’s jobs were in the home, and many (but not all) men’s jobs were outside the home. The spouse working outside had an employer and cash wages, the spouse keeping the home had neither.  So a non-working spouse who had no SSI benefits on their own could continue to collect the benefit their spouse had retired on, if the spouse died.

Here’s the clever bit: If both spouses had SSI benefits, each started drawing them when they retired. If one spouse died, the survivor could switch to whichever benefit amount was larger. Say, for example, Pat and Kim both worked and both earned maximum SSI benefits. If Pat starts drawing at age 62, the amount they get is substantially less (30% in my case) than if they hung on to “Full Retirement Age” – (66 2/3 years, in my case).  If Kim keeps working, or can otherwise hold-off starting SSI benefits, Kim’s monthly benefit will be larger, even if both have at least 40 quarters of paid employment and contributed the full amount required by law, every year. Thus, Pat and Kim have different monthly benefits from SSI and always will for the rest of their lives.

IF Kim dies before Pat, Pat can change to drawing Kim’s higher monthly benefit, but can’t keep their own benefit. Pat’s old benefit simply vanishes. If Pat doesn’t want Kim’s higher benefit, they keep their own and Kim’s vanishes. If Pat dies before Kim, Kim already has the larger benefit.

So the SSI monthly payment is a benefit for a living person, but it is not an asset which can be conveyed to a person that the original recipient chooses. This is a key difference between SSI, and employee pension plans, and 401Ks and the like. 401Ks, etc., etc., are assets. There are rules about how they are used, and rules about when and what taxes are paid on them. But they are as real as any other account at an investment firm.


#2 Is there a minimum amount you must withdraw from a 401K, every year?

Yes. Starting when you turn 70 1/2 years old. In one example I found, its 1/26 of the value of the account, a bit less than 4%. But it is complicated and Morgan Stanley’s retirement fund people say to come talk it through with them on the way to picking a number.

See topic 4, in:

There are retirement calculators that cover this as well, with their own lore, sacrifices and mod-cons:

So if you’re 61 and haven’t retired yet, you don’t have to do anything. Yet. If you are working and can pack more money into the 401K, it’s probably wise to do so. If you wonder how much your 401K is worth to you as income, now, today, and you’re less than 70 and 1/2, its likely you can take out less than 4% each year. If you take out more than it makes every year, its a “decreasing asset” and you’ll have to judge your rate of consumption vs. expected lifespan. You can look up your life expectancy, for starters:

If your 401K is with a different investment firm, they’re who you should speak with.


More as I get it. I’ve foot-noted “Insurance” below.

*”Insurance” as in “Social Security Insurance” is misleading.

Conventional insurance products are based on shared risk and supposedly conservative investments. Every week, month or year, you send in your pennies, along with everyone else. All the pennies get invested wisely enough to cover whatever payouts are made over the lifetime of the product. Automobile and home products typically last 1 year, “Term” life insurance lasts for a fixed period, ending at a birthdate or some other agreed point in the future. Payments can be spread out over the term the insurance covers, or be one-time at the beginning.

“Whole” life insurance stays in force as long as the insured person is alive and the regular payments are made. The payout becomes an asset for survivors.

SSI is none of these things. If you want to start a fight, call it a modified Ponzi scheme. The money it pays out comes directly from the regular contributions collected immediately before the payout. Sort of. There need not be a pooled asset which yields profits which support payments. The term of art for this is “Pay as you go”, which is more attractive than “Ponzi Scheme”.

The details, where the devils lurk, are that a pay as you go scheme such as SSI starts with lots of contributors and no recipients. So the first funds collected did, actually, go into some investment, likely US Treasury Bonds, the most boring, safe asset. You’ll note this has the effect of retirees-to-be investing in the National Debt. Then the Baby Boom arrives and goes to work and the number of workers contributing is vastly larger than number of recipients. So the surplus continues going into bonds where it props up the National Debt.  Hiring new devils every year.

One wild-eyed argument against SSI is that NONE of the Treasury bonds will ever be sold, because actual tax dollars would have to pay them out. On the other hand, the Treasury pays bond dividends regularly, and returns the principle at the end of the bond’s life, to all the other bond holders inside and outside the USA. Does SSI surplus go into conventional “T-notes” similar to what anyone can buy, or are there conspiracy-special T-notes that pay no interest and don’t return the principle, because they exist only to suck up SSI surplus? I don’t know and I’m too busy to look it up, today.

A more plausible SSI disaster scenario is that the number of contributors won’t keep up with the number of recipients. This is the “SSI will go bankrupt” trope, and if nobody does anything about it, it will happen. Increasing the payments made by contributors or decreasing the benefits going to recipients seem like logical steps, but logic isn’t universally popular. It *could* happen. If nobody does anything about it.

So the payroll deduction is called “SSI” and it’s a gift to us from history, outdated and misleading marketing language. If we imagined we were as adult as other developed nations, we might make “SSI” part of taxes, in general, and make the payout an expense that must be paid, like our Congressperson’s retirement, medical and dental coverage.


*Fortunate* Motorcyclist survives driving off cliff

My comments to CNN:

Cliff-diving motorcyclist Matthew Murray, 27, passes a “25 MPH” advisory sign in the 12th second of CNN’s video clip. This is in the 2nd run through of the crash video. In the 15th second he’s going 68 MPH as he starts to lean into the turn. He’s still going more than 50 MPH as he slides off the pavement and onto the dirt. Text on the screen says something to the effect that he “was following the turn when he thinks his steering locked up”. The video shows no such thing. He was going too fast, and could not turn sharply enough to follow the turn. He started at more than 2.5 times the advised speed. He left the pavement at 2 times the advised speed. His speed “locked” his path, not his steering.

Get the an accurate map of the curve, the size and tread pattern of the motorcycle tires and a description of the motorcycle (make, model, horsepower, brakes,weight-as-crashed) and rider (weight). Give to “Mythbusters”. Have them duplicate the failure, during deceleration, then do a binary search for the steady speed at which a motorcycle on those tires, at that weight, could follow that turn. Braking uses traction, does that change maximum speed?. Find the entry speed, before braking, that would allow the bike to make the turn. Put a GoPro on the bike for comparison pictures, and a second one showing where the front tire touches the road.

For Fire Season: Just enough about particle masks

Top 10 Bookstores in the East Bay

A nice write-up on a key subject! Omits “Dan Webb Books”, doesn’t mention “The Booktree” right across the street from “A Great Good Place For Books” but my picks belong in my list. This is theirs and I’m glad to have found it!

The writer mentions the Montclair Egg Shop as a pairing with A Great Good Place for Books. Absolutely yes! Best place I can think of to take a new book or an old friend or both.

Source: Top 10 Bookstores in the East Bay

“Testing – How does one learn QA?” – An answer I posted on the StackOverflow “Programers” forum

Ziv, the questioner asks: ” … how would one proceed if he wants to learn QA?

More specifically, a programmer who wants to learn about the QA process and how to manage a good QA methodology. I was given the role of jumpstarting a QA process in our company and I’m a bit lost, what are the different types of testing (system, integration, white box, black box) and which are most important to implement first? How would one implement them?

I wrote:

There are simple rules of thumb.

Try what the manual says. Install and run on a clean target, user license, the works. Does it work? Did you have to add anything not covered in the manual?

Are all the default control values usable? Or is there something that’s wrong, or blank, by default and always has to be changed?

Set every value in the user interface to something other than its default. Can you detect a difference caused by the change? Is it correct? Do them one at a time, or in the smallest sets possible, to make the results clear.

Set every value in the user interface to a second, non-default, value. Change everything at once. Can you detect the difference? Is it correct?

One by one, do something to cause every error message to be generated. Do something similar, but correctly, so that no error message is generated.

All of the above depend on changing a condition, between an “A” case and a “B” case, and that change having a detectable result. Then the “C” case produces another change, another result, and so forth. For 10 tests, you need 11 conditions. Using defaults as much as possible is a good first condition.

By now you’ve got a list of things to test, that you recorded, and results, that you recorded, and maybe some new bugs. Throw something big and complicated at the solution. Give it a file of 173000 words to sort, paste a Jane Austin novel or some telecommunications standard 100 pages long, a 50MB bitmap graphic, 3 hours of streaming video. Open the performance monitor and get CPU-bound, or I/O bound. For an hour. Check memory use: always increasing? Rises and falls?

Take the list of bugs closed in the last week, month, sprint, etc. Check them. All. Are they really fixed?

Keep track of what to do, how it worked on what version/release/build/configuration, open and closed bugs, what controls have been set or changed, what data, test files or examples have been used, etc. is all part of Quality world. Keep results as tables in a spread sheet, make version controlled backups / saves.

Someone writing software, or any one creating anything, has an idea of what they’re trying to make. The quality process starts with expectations. Requirements, specifications, rules, or another articulation of what’s expected. Then there’s the solution, the thing offered to perform, assist, enable or automate what’s expected. Then there are tests, operations, examples, inspections, measurements, questionnaires, etc., to relate one or more particular solution(s) to (relevant) expectations. Finally, there’s an adjustment, compensation, tuning, correction or other positive action that is hoped to affect the solution(s).

When one writes software, one has a goal of it doing something, and to the extent that’s expressed, the behavior can be checked. Hello.exe displays “Hello World” on a screen. “2**150” in the Python interpreter displays, “1427247692705959881058285969449495136382746624L”. Etc. For small problems and small solutions, its possible to exhaustively test for expected results. But you wouldn’t test a word processor just by typing in some words, or even whole documents. There are limits of do-ability and reason. If you did type in all of “Emma” by Jane Austin, would you have to try her other four novels? “Don Quixote” in Spanish?

Hence an emphasis on expectations. Meeting expectations tells you when the solution is complete. My web search for “Learn Quality Assurance” just returned 46 million potential links, so there’s no shortage of opinions. Classic books on the subject (my opinion, worth what you paid for it:) include

  • Quality is Free” by Philip Crosby,
  • Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” by Robert Pursig
  • Managing the Software Process” by Watts Humphrey
  • “The Mythical Man Month” by Fred Brooks
  • Code Complete” by Steve McConnell

Take 5 minutes to read some of the Amazon reviews of those books and you’ll be on your way. Get one or more and read them. They’re not boring. Browse ASQ, Dr. Dobbs, Stack Overflow. Above all, just like writing software. DO it. Consider the quality of some software under your control. Does it meet expectation? If so, firm hand-shake and twinkle in the eye. Excellent!. If not, can it be corrected? Move to the next candidate.

I like the Do-Test-Evaluate-Correct loop, but its not a Universal Truth. Pick a process and follow it consciously. Have people try the testing, verification and validation steps described in the language manual they use most frequently. Its right there on their desk, or in their phone’s browser.

Look at your expectations. Are they captured in a publicly known place? With revision control? Does anyone use them? Is there any point where the solutions being produced are checked against the expectations they are supposed to be meeting?

Look at your past and current bug reports. (You need a bug tracking system. If you don’t have one, start there.) What’s the most common catastrophic bug that stops shipment or requires an immediate patch? Whats the most commonly reported customer bug? What’s the most common bug that doesn’t get fixed?

Take a look at ISO 9000 process rules. Reflect on value to your customers/users. Is there’s a “customer value statement” that explains how some change affects the customer’s perception of the value of the solution? How about in the requirements?

By “the QA process”, you could mean “Quality Assurance”, versus “QC”, “Quality Control”? You might start with the web site, where the “American Society for Quality” dodges the question by not specifying “Control” (their old name was “ASQC”) or “Assurance”.

Quality; alone, “assured” or “controlled”, is a big idea with multiple, overlapping definitions and usages. Some will tell you it cannot be measured in degrees- its present or not, no “high quality” or “low quality” for them. Another famous claim is that no definition is satisfactory, so its good to talk about it, but avoid being pinned down in a precise definition. How do you feel about it?


The original posting is at


Father’s day tides at Moss Beach:

Here’s the tide table for this coming weekend at Moss Beach, just north of Princeton By The Sea, at the north edge of Half Moon Bay. High tide, +6 feet, at Midnight between Friday and Saturday, 1:00am between Saturday and Sunday. Low, low, tides at 7:00am, -1.5 feet!! on Saturday, -1.25 feet, at 7:48am, Sunday.
So, by crackie, we’ll be there as early as we an on Sunday. Sunrise is before 6:00am, so no shortage of light. Do a web search and you’ll discover this place has the best tidepools that ever existed- perhaps 1/4 mile or more along the coast, as much as 200 yards off shore of the normal high tide mark. A huge shelf of very low quality rock, normally around or perhaps a bit below the 0 foot level, that will be a good foot above sea level on Sunday Morning.

An example that pleased me: The difference between an abstract class and an interface, in Java:

Here’s the punch line:

In Java, Prussia can extend (“be a”) one of the super-classes, Holy, Roman or  Empire, but only one. Prussia can implement the other two as interfaces, but only with methods and fields uniquely its own. If Prussia is to be Holy, be Roman and be an Empire, the strictly hierarchical relationship of those three super-classes has to be worked out separately and in detail, in advance. I can only imagine Herr von Bismark would approve.


And the whole magilla:
1) What is the difference between an interface and an abstract class?

An abstract class defines data (fields) and member functions but may not, itself, be instantiated. Usually, some of the methods of an abstract class are abstract and expected to be supplied by a sub-class, but some of the methods are defined.  Unless they are final, they can be overridden, and they can always be overloaded. Private parts of an abstract super class, for example, data, are not available to a subclass, so access methods (public or protected) must be used by the subclass. An abstract superclass is “extended” by a subclass. A given subclass may only extend one super-class, but a super-class may extend another super-class, in a hierarchy. (This avoids the complexities/difficulties of multiple inheritance in C++)

An interface is a proper subset of an abstract class, but has a different scope and use. An interface has ONLY abstract member functions and static, final, fields, aka constants. Any subclass has to provide all the variable fields and code which implements an interface. The implementing class cannot override the interface’s member signatures – the signatures are what the interface *is*. It is possible to overload an interface’s signatures, adding or subtracting variables, changing return or variable types, but the overloads do not satisfy the requirements of the interface. The implementing class(s) must contain actual member functions to satisfy all of the signatures in the interface, because there is no default, no code in the interface.  As used above, a given class ‘implements’ an interface, it does not ‘extend’ it. These limitations to an interface allow a given class to implement more than one, which retains most of the utility of multiple inheritance without, as it were, opening Plethora’s bag. (grin)

For example: In Java, Prussia can extend (“be a”) one of the super-classes, Holy, Roman or  Empire, but only one. Prussia can implement the other two as interfaces with methods and fields uniquely its own. If Prussia is to be Holy, be Roman and be an Empire, the strictly hierarchical relationship of those three super-classes has to be worked out separately and in detail, in advance. I can only imagine Herr von Bismark would approve.