# Why don't I derail?

I’m doing two “do less” goals (Internet browsing, as measured by Rescuetime, and iPhone usage which I can track on my phone and input manually). Between them, I have gone into the red three times. When I do, beeminder gives me all sorts of scary warnings and, shortly before midnight assures me I’m minutes from derailing. But when midnight rolls around I’m back in the orange again. Despite my \$5 pledges I haven’t paid out any money. Perhaps the first derailment is free, but I just had my second derailment on one of the goals.

I thought that if I finished the day in the red that was considered derailing. Do I need to finish in the red two days in a row? Or finish the day so far in the red that the next day would start in the red?

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Under the hood, Do Less goals are implemented the same way as Do More goals, but on the user side the result looks completely different. I’ll try to explain as best I can:

The fundamental rule is that Beeminder derails your goal if there are two consecutive days in the red. Of course we all know that Do More goals can sit in the red for a day while you work on them. They derail at midnight because at 12:01 AM it’s now two red days in a row. You can prove this by editing old data for a Do More goal. You can make a red goal derail immediately if you retroactively make yesterday red too.

Now the catch with Do Less goals is that you are given your daily “credit” before Beeminder checks whether you have derailed. Suppose your Do Less goal is set to 14 per week or 2 per day. That means that if you end your day at -1, at 12:01 AM you’ll be at 1 (since -1 + 2 = 1) and will not derail. But if you ended the day at -3, you would derail since -3+2=-1 is still red.

There’s one more rule though! You can only use the dip-into-the-red trick on alternating days. So suppose your Do Less goal is at 1 and you go to -1. If you didn’t fudge yesterday, you’ll sit at -1, then go to 1 at 12:01 AM and be okay. But if you fudged yesterday, you’ll derail immediately when you go to -1.

So, in summary, to figure out whether your Do Less goal will derail you need to be keeping track of your daily credit and be very careful to only go negative on alternating days and never by more than the amount of your daily credit.

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Shall we take this as a vote for eliminating the loophole that @drtall so eloquently described? Let’s make the scary warnings true…

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Also, I’ll mention that this behavior makes eep! notifications and a lot of IFTTT triggers completely worthless for Do Less. I moved all of my Do Less goals to a separate account with notifications disabled to avoid all the headaches.

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My suggestion for a better rule is “You derail if you ever have a day in the red, except that today doesn’t count.”. I believe it is relatively straightforward to apply and also works with arbitrarily deadlines for a correctly defined “today”.

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eep warnings are tricky for do-less. There seem to be two sub-flavours:

• I can claw my way back onto the road, let me know when I’m over
• I’ve eaten the donut already, wish I’d noticed how close to the edge I was
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I think that if we had an uncle button it would be fine. Even though Beeminder doesn’t know whether it’s possible for me to get back on the road, I can uncle button goals for which it is impossible.

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Is that a vote for eep warnings when you’re in the orange? When should they zeno insistently?

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What if you could indicate to Beeminder whether this is a Do Less goal that can go up and down, or only up?

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Oh I think I misunderstood what kind of tricky you meant. I don’t think it is possible to intelligently pre-warn for a Do Less goal. It is not possible to infer the data entry scheme given the goal settings, so you can’t tell how much danger the goal is in. Is a buffer of 100 units safe? Possibly not, if the minimum data point is 125. And you can’t infer that from the goal setting of 6 per week.

What I was lamenting about the eep! warnings is that you can say that you want red-only warnings for Do More goals, but the same setting makes Do Less goals spam you when you are not in the red.

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Hmm, I had always assumed that if I went beyond the limit I would derail immediately, as soon as I exceeded the limit (even before midnight). I think that ideally this would be the case, as that is what makes most sense to me intuitively.

I agree that it’s more difficult to intelligently warn users for these kind of goals. Perhaps by looking at the average value of the last 10 datapoints, as well as the median? Users can also be required to set a specific value at which they’d like to receive the first warning, the second warning, etc. Smartphone data usage monitoring apps have something like this, and it seems like this could be a viable solution.

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I might agree except that data entry errors do happen. It is more convenient if you have until midnight to fix your typo, rather than needing to go through support.

I think this is a good idea!

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Hmm, I hadn’t thought about the data entry errors. I agree with you on that, though I have previously suggested an undo button (active, for say, 5 minutes after derailing) for these kind of mistakes. Pretty unlikely for “Do more” goals, but yeah, it’s very possible for data entry (an extra digit or just the wrong number), and it has happened to me before on an odometer goal when I forgot that it was an odometer goal and treated it like a “do more” goal…

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