- Either use interval arithmetic which is tricky and may give you useless large bounds, but those bounds are guaranteed to hold.
- Or just try all the rounding modes which is less likely to give you large bounds, but now you have no guarantee that those bounds say something meaningful about your computation.
Or does the second case give meaningful guarantees?
Firstly, I find his example contrived. He wants to determine the accuracy of a black box by subtly tweaking how floating-point operations spread throughout that black box behave? It seems like an okay hook for ad-hoc debugging -- if those flags are around anyway -- but as the primary rationale for the entire rounding mode mechanism? That's not a lot of bang for a whole lot of complexity.
Secondly, this is exactly the kind of discussion around rationales and use cases I'm looking for. Even if I don't buy his solution the problem still stands and might be solvable some other way, for instance through better control over external dependencies. Maybe something like newspeak's modules-as-objects and hierarchy inheritance mechanisms could be applied here.
One of the most infuriating things about global rounding modes is that they are so slow for things when changing rounding modes would actually be useful. A nice example is Euclidean division: given x,y, find the largest integer q such that y >= q*x (in exact arithmetic). If you change the rounding mode to down, then floor(y/x) would get you q. However the mode change is typically so slow that it is quicker to do something like round((y-fmod(y,x))/x).