Monthly Archives: January 2014

How to manage a micro-business without an accountant

I don’t think a lot of micro-businesses in California need an accountant. If a business is just a few people, the owner/manager can use simple tools to do all business stuff, and hire a tax professional once a year.

We have been in business for 5 years in California, and we have a 4 full-time employees (including Anna and myself), and 3 regular part-timers (around the country). This stack of tools has evolved, and now I think it makes life pretty simple.

  • We use ZenPayroll for payroll, to send all employees and contractors money. ZenPayroll then takes care of sending out tax statements to the people you pay, getting them to fill out an I-9, and your California EDD stuff. It’s the best payroll service for California companies, and it’s the same price as everyone else.
  • For tracking time and invoicing, we use Harvest. It makes time-tracking easy, flexible, and cross-platform, and it makes invoicing easy and professional. I also admire the UI design.
  • For bookkeeping, we use Outright (now GoDaddy Bookkeeping). This is lightweight – it will  auto-import your transactions from banks like Wells Fargo or BoA, and help you to categorize them. This is all you need to do for book-keeping – if you run all of your payroll through ZenPayroll, and categorize all of your expenses (takes a few minutes a week) – congratulations, you’re a book keeper.
  • At the end of the year, taxes are simple. You dump the raw data and reports from, and send that to a CPA. I have been able to have my corporate (C-Corp.) taxes done for for about $200, and the same accountant does my family’s taxes (also about $200). TurboTax is only marginally cheaper than a CPA, so I think most people who own a small business (LLC, S-Corp) should use a CPA, and go ahead and get them to do your personal taxes (they’ll use something like TurboTax by the way, but do a better job and give you random tax advice).

That’s it really. If you do all of your transactions through one corporate bank account, and all of your payroll through the payroll system, then you should mostly be a good citizen. This works for my little software business at least.

Also, business is about money, and by managing your books yourself early on, you’ll deeply understand your own cash flow and balance sheet, and be able to hire a competent accountant later on. I also think you’ll naturally make more money this way.

Teddy Ruxpin is Going to Walk and Talk

Give it 5 or 10 years, but the Teddy Ruxpin of tomorrow is going to crawl, sort of converse with your kid, watch what your kid does, and report any problems back to you, electronically. I’ve been looking a lot at what robots can do – how mobile and smart and gentle they can be, and we’re at an exciting precipice. Teddy might start out with wheels.

Long before robots trick adults into thinking they are sentient, they will trick our children and our animals, who can sometimes hardly tell the difference between statues and the real thing. Robot companions for children will whisper words of love, sense consternation in the children, and encourage them to do educational things.

This, more than anything, may accelerate our collective intelligence. You can add up all the robotics manufacturing progress and war bots and vacuum cleaners, and it won’t stack up at all against the what we reap from a lot of early, interactive childhood play and education. Let’s see that IQ graph after the robot revolution.

And oh, the market… parents will do the buying, because they will love the idea of a roving baby monitor, with built in entertainment functions. The robots will start in the house, but soon you’ll see these little “toys” skittering around, behind children, all over the place. And then the children and robots will all play in groups, and we’ll eventually stop being able to tell the difference, from a distance, or perhaps even from close up.

The Robot Prism

When I start thinking about a topic in depth, it makes me see the world through that prism. It’s happened to me with games like chess and go, and I’ve been thinking a lot about robots these days, and I am seeing robots everywhere.

As I came out of Nick’s Pizza this evening with my takeout for Anna, the baby and I, I noticed how my body reacted to the steep step down. I hadn’t seen the step at first, but I didn’t quite stumble or fall. Rather, my foot noticed the terrain was uneven before I descended too much. I sort of naturally wiggled my foot, glanced down to confirm there was an unexpected steep step, and left more or less gracefully with my stack of two pizzas, two salads, two cookies, and a glass bottle of coke.

So it’s sort of amazing that a human can do this – juggle an unwieldy stack of objects, and quickly (at least compared to Darpa Robotic Challenge robots) scamper along uneven and unexpected terrain. Klutz that I am, I’ll make the best bipedal robots look like fools in a dance competition, or a running-across-arbitrary-terrain challenge.

It’s an innocuous moment – an unexpected scamper down a step, that is – but when you think about what it might take to have a robot navigate steps, it’s a fun and interesting rabbit hole. You can think about how to mimic a human and what sort of algorithms and sensors and servos that might take, or you can think that maybe it would be easier if the robot was a tank or a soccer ball.

I see robots everywhere, in my stumbles, and in my 15-month-old son Adlai’s little struggles and triumphs with the physical world. It’s such an interesting thing to explore, robotics – movement and sensing and manipulation, that we take so many years to get right as animals, but we hope to be able to synthesize and conjure up in our machines.

It doesn’t seem odd to me, somehow, to suppose that millions of robots might walk and fly and buzz and zip among us in just the next few years. In fact, I’m starting to think its certain.



Here’s a review of Nick’s Pizza too, while I’m at it.


Sphereholder Myozen was Peter Duke’s first conference, or at least the first one where he’d be speaking. He arrived in his personal spacecraft, a Chevitz Mark 1, with his wife Beth co-piloting, and their 7-legged hairless cheshire cat curled lazily around the titanium spikes at the top of Peter’s headrest. The Chevitz was a lease and just a year old, and it had most of the bells and whistles.

They came out of warp at the fringe of the atmosphere of Myozen, an Earth-like planet commonly used for hosting intergalactic conventions – the semi-annual Sphereholder conference was on Myozen every other time, always the same hotel. As they pulled out of warp, dozens of spires could be seen piercing the atmosphere, itself also visible and orange-tinted, with thin, not-quite parallel black stripes covering the entire visible side. The largest hotels and convention centers on Myozen were Starscrapers.

The Clarabellum’s mellow female voice emanated into the cabin, “We are now approaching Myozen, and I will take us to the Spire Grand Hotel and Convention Center, if there are no other stops.” Peter glanced at Beth, who had put down her computer paper as they came out of warp, and was looking out at the spires of Myozen. It really was quite a sight, and though she’d been here a handful of times, the spiky basketball of a planet was worth a look on each approach.

“No stops, Clara, let’s go on to the hotel,” Beth said.

It took about 45 seconds to get to the hotel, and about 45 minutes to get inside and checked in. As they approached the Spire Grand, a queue of ships curled off into space, waiting to be unloaded, checked in, and valeted out to the space lot. Besides the Sphereholder conference, the Spire Grand was hosting two other conferences – a quiz bowl tournament for the planets of Quadrant 4, which shared a common enough heritage that their cultural and scientific traditions were very close, and Shibaricon, which drew its name from the ancient Earth Conference that celebrated Japanese Rope Bondage. As it turned out though, Shibaricon was incarnated thousands of times across diverse civilizations, with many different names, and so rope bondage wasn’t invented on Earth, but the Earthling name stuck when the conferences started merging after the Unification.

The hold-up was a large space-bus filled with adolescents here to play quiz bowl. To be fair, the valets were doing a remarkable job of ferrying the various shapes and temperaments of what were basically children out of the bus and into the not quite rigid walk-tube to the hotel, but since the bus was also a dimensional vehicle, there were thousands of children inside, and the bus was going to take longer to unload than the 5 ships ahead of Peter and Beth, as well as the 2 that had arrived after they had gotten in line.

It was a long trip, and they were both tired and hungry, because they didn’t want to stop on the warpways to eat space trash, and Peter wanted to get in early enough that he could practice his talk, which focused on his last consulting gig, a study of a planet’s resistance to a major pandemic outbreak. Clara sensed their discomfort, “Shall I read you a story while we wait, or perhaps play some music? A cup of tea might be nice too.”

Peter smiled a bit and replied, “Thanks Clara, music and some tea would be nice.” Light blues piped in all around them, and cupholders at their side seemed to swivel around to reveal cups of tea in tall blue clear plastic cups, but it was more of the matter of the panel reforming than anything mechanical – that was just the comfortable illusion.

The wait didn’t seem all that interminable as it turned out. Beth returned to her computer paper, and began idly playing some sort of grid-based word game. It was in a language Peter didn’t recognize, and he was sure she had programmed herself to know it just to play this game. For his time, he listened to the music and sipped at his tea – a black variety, some caffeine, not too strong. His thoughts went back and forth between his talk, which he was nervous about, and anything negative, which happened when he was nervous. He considered that some higher end models could replicate snack foods too, but his could only do tea, coffee, and various thin-tasting juices. But the tea was nice, he concluded.

Once the space-bus had been unloaded, the rest of the line quickly evaporated, and the Clarabellum guided Peter and Beth into the valet dock. Just as the ship came to a halt, the driver and passenger side panels of the ship evaporated, and shimmering blue passageways snaked from the ship to join with the valet dock. Peter’s driver’s side passage hooked right into the dock, and he turned and stepped inside, where a red-jacketed valet stood smiling, “Welcome to the Spire Grand, sir. Here for Sphereholder?,” he asked, “ Or is it Shibaricon?,” he added with a knowing laugh.

Peter smiled and replied, “Sphereholder, of course. My sphere is in an unbreakapod in back, and actually quite dead, but please be gentle regardless.”

The valet remained expressionless, but Peter watched him closely. “Of course, sir. We have the pleasure of hosting 762 Sphereholders this conference, and we have all been briefed on proper protocols, of course.”

“Thank you,” Peter said, as Beth emerged from the blue docking tunnel, with the sentapodic cat half draped, half wrapped around her neck. The junior valet also appeared, and passed on to Peter control of the hovercart, with the unbreakapod and their matched set of 4 emerald green bags of assorted size to them. A third valet opened the door for them into the Spire’s front lobby. By the time it was all over, Peter had handed each one Unification dollar to each an, in that easy dance as each bit of service was dispensed, and they were following the hovercart inside.

The lobby of the Spire Grand is a fantastic site for a green tourist, but not the greatest hotel lobby on the planet, much less the galaxy. An infinity of fish swim through the walls of the place… the entirety of the walls, columns, ceilings, and even floor of the Spire’s main lobby are an elaborate crystalline fish tank. A few patrons could be seen swimming inside, in air suits that filter oxygen from the water into the skin.

It turns out that most intelligent beings end up having about 2 arms, 2 legs, and 1 head and torso, and fashion now spread at warp speed through the Unified galaxies,and so the lobby to the Spire Grand Spire was more or less what one might expect in a very large cosmopolitan hotel anywhere, though of course the costumes were quite strange, as high school boys and sex fetishists dress strangely across all time and space and spheres.

They are on the 34735 floor of the Grand Spire – Peter’s company only covered the general accommodations on lower floors, but he was able to upgrade to a Star-class room with points he had acquired through his constant travels. His wife rarely travelled with him, and so he made this trip a little more special than usual.

They follow the hovercart to the tele-door, which looks like a normal doorway, with a staticcy silver curtain crackling almost audibly in an invisible wind. The hovercart emits a somewhat squeaky voice, “Starsuite 83.” The tele-door turns vaguely green, and the hovercart floats forward into it. Peter and Beth follow.

They emerge immediately into a short private entrance hallway to Starsuite 83, on the 34735th floor of the Spire Grand. Two matched collections of light paintings adorn the the walls of the hallway, and a pair of rainbow ferns that thrived in the prismatic light of the paintings flanked the doorway to the suite, in ornate crystal pots that showed their equally rainbow roots suspended in a clear liquid.

The doorway was open to a dimly lit suite, and the hovercart floated through, and unloaded itself with spindly electronic arms in the bedroom, before floating off back down the hallway and into the tele-door. Beth was using the bathroom, and Peter was taking off his flight jacket.

“Privacy, lights at 80%,” said Peter, and an austere steel and wood door materialized in the doorway to the hall, and lights came to mostly full.

As requested, their dinner had been delivered just prior to arrival, and Peter and Beth sat down to a vivid array of raw, live, and somewhat cooked fish and crustaceans, harvested from the vast tank that ensconced the lobby and lower hotel.

“Oh Peter, the food is the best part of the Spire.”

They both eat hungrily, taking tentacled and finned and squirmy creatures up in their electro-chopsticks, which could be willed to give a little shock with brain waves alone, for the live, willful, or stinging varieties of fish. This platter was tame, and the provision of the electro chopsticks was mostly for show, though you could zap the eyeless live sardines if you wanted a certain taste, which the menu placard provided with the meal encouraged patrons to do.

She drinks sake, but he just has plum juice mixed with nitrogenated spring water, both in keeping with the eastern and seafood themes of the restaurant. The east/west culture divide also shows up many times across the universe.

He’s still eating a bit, but she’s just drinking little cups of sake by this point. She’s most of the way through a friendly looking pink bottle, with a gold and satin sash. They are both a bit spaced out, her on the sake and the space-lag, him going over his presentation in his mind and trying to go through all of the people who might be there and their specialities and what they might ask.

“Peter, do you think there will be any protesters at your talk tomorrow? Will anyone say anything?,” Beth finally asked, after a long period of just eating. He replied,

“A few of the groups boycotted the last class 3 talk, I expect that will happen again this time. Some of the academics and non-profits think they should be banned, but of course even the class 4 event treaty only requires reporting from the master Sphereholder, so no one takes them seriously on the issue.”

“I should prep,” he says, with a sigh. “At least we’ll have tomorrow night on Chester’s new slow sphere, and we can do two weeks of virtual time.”

“It’s a long time coming!” agreed Beth. “Love you, I’m sure you’ll do great. I’m going to read on the aural balcony for a while, I’ve heard that’s something everyone should do in this sweet.”

Beth grabbed her cup, the remaining sake, and her computer paper from the emerald bags, and she opened the quaintly mechanical french doors, and headed out into what looked to Peter like outer space. She turned and smiled, and shut the door behind her.


After he prepped the night before, he had woken her after midnight and they had made love. They woke up a little late as a result, and decided to skip the continental breakfast.

Room coffee in the morning, get ready, casual dress. Have the free continental breakfast. Chit chat with some other people who are eating before the conference. Maybe some industry acquaintance. He parts with Beth. He’s the second session of the day, and he’s talking about his last assignment.

His last gig was a class 3 event, which turned into a class 4. A Class 3 Sphere experiment is one that causes widespread and irreversible damage to the people of planet of a sphere. His firm had been hired to mostly wipe out a world with a pandemic, and he was the lead Sphereholder. Class 4 events were almost never done – experiments that can potentially wipe out entire spheres. It requires a great bureaucracy of approval to get such an experiment done, and it’s such an expensive undertaking, and there’s rarely a point to wiping out a whole universe. There were just 3 such events, and the dead spheres were available for study to any sufficiently ranked Sphereholder.

As he took the podium, his hands were slick with sweat. He had spent the last 18 months working for Intraglobe, the largest Sphereholder consulting company in the world. Intraglobe had over 200 spheres in its stable, including 4 of the 10 spheres that matched or exceeded the real world’s time span. This was a presentation in front of the entire industry, future bosses and colleagues, clients and co-founders. He knew he had a good presentation, because the outcome was so aberrant, but he hadn’t slept much, and he was jittery with coffee.

His was a sought after job, even in the industry, and he would be sought after whenever he chose to leave Intraglobe. He could become a corporate Sphereholder, and oversee one or more Spheres for a large concern, maybe Chevitz, which made his car and was one of the big 3 consumer ship makers. Or he could let himself be poached over to another consulting company, and probably double his salary at least. Heady stuff, if he could manage to remember his talk.

Spheres can only be grown, not copied, and each is a unique universe with some unknown characteristics, but seeded with the calculated start data of our own universe, so similarities abound across all universes, even near-identical planets in some cases. The latest techniques require over 1000 years to evolve a Sphere to the present time frame. For this reason and other reasons, there are ethical questions surrounding research that results in class 3 and class 4 events, but protocols exist.

Peter began, ”We attempted to engineer the annihilation of a planet in a mature Sphere. Our goal was to totally and completely wipe out intelligent life on a planet, by propagating a pandemic virus across the globe. This has been attempted a documented 4 other times, none of which actually succeeded.”

As he speaks, the slideshow shows a map, presumably of the plagued world, starting with a single radiating dot on a small continent in the southwest. There is a date display on the bottom of the map, in the center. Time ticks by increasingly rapidly, dots spread to everywhere. Hundreds of years pass. When all seems lost, when all continents are infected and most dead, a single green dot appears at the original infected continent, and slowly spreads, then exponentially, and defeats the virus in a flash. 15 million people remain alive on the planet, from a height of 20 billion.

“It was a rapidly spreading, initially dormant virus. We implanted agents in certain governments to prevent large scale quarantines early on.”

Peter showed a slide with the number one being divided by one trillion. That was all there was on the slide.

“What eventually halted the plague was a tera-event, as handicapped by the Interglobe quantum cluster,” Peter continued. “A monk of an ascetic priesthood, Abivasa Rajan, a mathematical prodigy who took an early interest in medicine, tracked the plague over the course of his 120 year life. By the time he was born, the plague was 80 years old, and had broadly infected the major population centers of the world, but was mostly dormant.”

“Throughout the course of his life, he lived as a monk tending to the sick in one of the planet’s largest 3rd world slums, perhaps comparable to some of the planets in our Outer Reaches. He was a great scholar, and spent his evening studying the profligate cadavers of the great slum. We know that he was independently finding medical concepts contemporaneously with the celebrated scientists of the times, and some of his inventions were uniquely his, and used only in the slum, until after the plague receded.”

He flipped to the next slide, which showed a green dot, travelling across the sea of red dots on the map.

“In the final 20 years of his life, when the death toll of the plague began to peak, Abivasa undertook a pilgrimage to find the source of the plague, and to attempt to create a cure. He walked thousands of miles across cold tundras and hot deserts, collecting stories from the lucky few who still carried the dormant plague, or perhaps didn’t have it at all.”

“He finally found the plague source, and the original carrier. Maybe a vaccine from the blood the rodent that was the primary disease vector. He succumbed to the plague while creating the vaccine, but it was carried to the people and they were saved.”

“After the vaccine started to be administered, we followed protocol and wiped out the planet completely, within a few Sphere decades. The original carrier samples would be studied by future generations, who would eventually determine that they were living in a simulation, and corrupt the entire sphere.”

He had decided to focus on the micro-story for this presentation. The research and data he presented back to the client was old hat for the Sphereholder Conference, and he knew he at least appreciated the micro-story-focused presentations. There were enough presentations focused on expected value maps for civilization growth, and other industry-jargon-laced sessions that are pitching some new snake oil technique or thinly veiled attempts to cell new tech, like cutting edge world accelerators, that you’d never touch a real Sphere with, because who knows how it might fray time space.

The crowd seemed receptive, at least, and he received a pretty full round of applause, if not the standing ovation he had imagined while prepping in his bathroom last night, in front of the mirror.

“Any questions?”

A few hands shot up, and he picked the Glynfast, which was a human-like alien in all respects, except for the hummingbird wings keeping him aloft as he eagerly batted his hand for attention.

“Go ahead,” he said, pointing, “You in the back there”

The Glynfast buzzed a little higher so his voice would carry, and he said, “Thanks for sharing your experience, really great talk. I wanted to ask…”

Somehow he knew the next one would be a protester, but he didn’t; expect his old professor.

“Emanative quantum theory suggests that all the world relate in a quantum way, even the spheres we study to perhaps what is our sphere, and even perhaps to higher order spheres.”

[Mocking and guffaws from the younger sect]

“We have studied highly correlative spheres, and we can detect manipulations of one of the other. We even have a talk later at this conference that demonstrates simple sphere to sphere communications.”

“How can we continue like this? Physics suggests this endangers our sphere, if we are one.”

Out to Dinner

He met Beth after the second session, on the plaza outside the convention center. They had made plans to visit a planet on a Sphere controlled this weekend by Peter’s friend Bill from Circlefinity. Part of the fun of a Sphereholder conference was being able to virtually visit all sorts of worlds, as king or pauper as you prefer. They were going to an exotic beach island for an evening of drinks and shellfish and live music.

Sphere tourism was actually a much vaster industry than industrial and academic Sphereholder research. Most Spheres are housed in spa-like locations, of varying quality, and provide all manner of vacation, voyeuri

Over dinner, she asks him how his presentation went. He frets about not enough questions, not enough applause, maybe he should finish up two years at Intraglobe before he moves on.

Economy – iOS Card Game with Source Code

My project to make a digital collectible card game may not be dead – here’s the source code for “Economy“.

I mustered the will to update the code while Anna and I were traveling over the holidays, so it runs on iOS7. I also rolled it back to what I like to call the “last fun commit.” At one point, when I handed the game to people, they sort of “got it” and wanted to play a few games, despite the graphics sucking and the game being unrefined.

So, if I do put a few more hours into this, I think I will start at the last fun commit, and throw away the baroque work I did later that didn’t improve the game. Despite what it looks like, this was kind of fun:

Screen Shot 2014-01-11 at 1.54.02 PM