Estimating Accuracy- Part 1 (Jan 25)

A couple weeks ago, a support call came in from a potential buyer of our construction estimating software. They were confused, because the math seemed wrong for one material line item in an Assembly. When we checked it in our copy of the Sample Company File, it definitely was wrong. The line item total should be equal to unit cost times quantity plus waste factor, and it wasn’t.

It took a while to investigate this problem, and I’ll get to that later.

First of all, you can do the following to fix things:

  1. Choose Cost Items from the Costs menu.
  2. Choose Find All from the Edit menu.
  3. Choose Replace All from the Edit menu.
  4. In the Replace popup field, choose Adjust by Percentage.
  5. Type in a small percentage like .0001%. Or use a bigger number if you want to account for inflation.
  6. Click OK.
  7. Goldenseal will recalculate all Assemblies, and redo all the math correctly.

Actually, this adjustment fixes everything except for four items: all for unskilled labor in closet shelving. We still need to investigate why that is off. Right now, even after the Replace All update, it still calculates $6 to $12 too low per closet. Everything else is fine. There may be a reason why closets calculate that way, but if so, nobody here remembers why.

We did not find anything wrong in the code that calculates unit costs in Assemblies and Estimates. You also won’t see errors for materials if you’ve changed their purchase price, or if you used a percentage adjustment any time in the past. Those force the Assembly line items to recalculate.

Right now, we still don’t know exactly how the numbers got off in our construction estimating data. We have tried hard to duplicate the problem, but so far it never goes wrong in real time.

The Sample Company File has been around since the early, pre-release versions of Goldenseal. That’s why most of its contents have dates in 1998. We used it for daily testing. Back then, the file format changed frequently, so we exported the sample data to a text file, then imported it back into newer versions. It was faster than retyping the fake business records.

Most of the construction price data came from our older software (MacNail, HyperEstimator and BidMagic). Converting those to Cost Items and Assemblies required some hacking and export/import. As we improved the estimating process, there was more hacking and export/import. Then we moved data between the sample and starter files, which meant even more hacking and export/import. Lots of opportunities for errors to creep in.

Over the years we have discovered and fixed a few dozen unit cost problems. Users have also reported a few. I suspect that the rest of the data bugs have lingered there unnoticed since the late 90s or early 00s.

The errors are almost exactly balanced between positive and negative. In real world estimates, they probably canceled out. Most are just pennies, probably from rounding errors. The big ones are in obscure materials that we don’t update very often. Anyone actually using them probably entered a new price, which fixed the math.

Still, we sell data as well as software. It should be perfect. We are working on that now.

While testing the construction assemblies in our estimating software, it also seemed time to update the material pricing. In general, wood pricing is up, concrete is way up, while hardware and manufactured items are down slightly. There are still more prices to gather, but updated files will be available for download soon.

Digging around in our construction cost database stirred up some other issues that are worthy of discussion. I’ll cover them in a future post.

Dennis Kolva
Programming Director





2018 Payroll Tax Withholding Update (Jan 19)

We just released 2018 US tax tables for Goldenseal payroll software. This is our latest release date, ever.

IRS issued their preliminary 2018 tax formulas on Jan 11.  About a dozen states base their own tables on the federal ones. As of the 19th, all but Missouri, North Dakota and Vermont managed to catch up.  We are planning on another release whenever IRS publishes final numbers (and remaining states publish their info).

Using the 2018 withholding tables, there won’t be much change in payroll withholding amounts, for most employees.  The biggest change for most of our users is whether to incorporate, and take advantage of pass-through loopholes.

BTW, tax rates for rich people have really changed over the years. This year’s decrease was relatively minor.

Modern income taxes started after the 16th Amendment in 1913, with a top marginal tax rate of 7%. The top rate jumped to about 70% from 1917 to 1921, then declined to 25% from 1925 to 1931.

Great Depression rates were 63% to 79%. During World War II they gradually increased to 94%, then hung out in the 86% to 91% range until 1963. Through the 1970s they were about 70%. They shrank to 28% during the Reagan 1980s, then ranged between 31% and 39.6% since then.

Dennis Kolva
Programming Director



Goldenseal Pro Progress (Jan 11)

If Goldenseal Pro were a construction project, framing and utility rough-ins would now be done (mostly), and drywall would be starting. It’s that satisfying period when the interior transitions from a 2×4 maze, to actual rooms. Or, from a software point of view, the code is starting to look like a real estimating/accounting program.

Goldenseal’s software interface has six functional modes: data entry, finding records, reports, custom layouts, printing, and accounting actions. The first two are now working, and we just started on reports.  The six modes have very similar programming, so we will continue on them in that order until they’re all functional.

Work is progressing quickly enough that we probably will focus on just the Mac version for a while. The goal is to complete enough that we can start using it to run TurtleSoft. That’s a huge milestone, since we can then test daily under real-life conditions, with real business data. In the software world, this is known as “eating your own dog food”. Best estimate is a month or possibly two, to get that far.

After that, it shouldn’t take long for the Windows version to catch up. Working with the MFC library on Windows is easier than Cocoa on Mac, and the prep work in our existing code will already be done.

Our programming staff has definitely ascended far up the “learning curve” for the new language and libraries needed to build Goldenseal Pro. We are zipping right along!

Dennis Kolva
Programming Director



Goldenseal Pro Navigation (Jan 4)

Goldenseal currently uses pull-down menus to navigate through its data entry screens, reports and commands. With more than 300 menu choices, it’s easy to get lost or overwhelmed. Our accounting software risks being the virtual equivalent of a desk piled high with papers and whatevers.

Both Microsoft and Apple have improved their developer libraries enormously, in the past 15 years. They now include much better interface tools. We are using them to improve navigation for users, so it’s easier to prepare estimates and run the business.

One big improvement is the outline view, which organizes stuff into folders and subfolders. It’s how you navigate through files in both Mac and Windows. Goldenseal Pro uses an outline view to replace about half the former pull-down menus. It allows everything to happen in a single window, with folders and tabs to navigate. The outline is particularly handy when using the full accounting/job costing/payroll software, since that is more complex.

Sometimes it’s nice to put two windows side-by-side, so Goldenseal Pro also allows individual windows. As a bonus, they are simpler to program. We usually get them working first, then move code into the main window.

Another big improvement is the Windows ribbon bar, which organizes buttons and controls. It replaces the other half of Goldenseal’s pull-down commands. There’s no need for a menu bar at all, in the Windows version of our accounting and estimating software.

The Cocoa library for Macintosh doesn’t have a ribbon bar. However, we just finishing building a top bar that works the same way. It’s actually tidier than the Windows version, and equally functional. Goldenseal Pro for Mac will still have a menu bar, but it will be brief and optional. If Apple ever decides to remove the menu bar and make the Mac more iPhone-like, we’ll be ready.

The new interface in Goldenseal Pro ought to make life easier, especially for beginners. For example, consider a user who’s working on an estimate, and wants to change the layout of a printed form. In old Goldenseal, they need to choose Custom Layouts from the Options menu, then choose Printed Forms, then choose Estimates from a popup menu. Then choose a form from another popup. In new Goldenseal, they click the Layout button, then choose a form. Two steps instead of four, and much more obvious.

Setting up the new ribbon bars made it apparent that there are six different ‘modes’ in Goldenseal software. You can do data entry, find records, customize layouts, view reports, print forms, and use one of the action commands like Reconcile or Pay Bills. All but a few of the pull-down commands map to one of those. Goldenseal currently uses different types of windows for each mode, with different tools and controls.  Goldenseal Pro is similar, but they all can fit into the same window.

As we start to program the modes, it’s also apparent that they are very similar. They all read a layout resource, and use it to position fields and tables on the screen. Programming-wise, that means we are entering a project phase that finishes almost everything. We already have code that loads data entry fields, and it won’t be too hard to adapt it to the other functions.

Dennis Kolva
Programming Director