1. Do you ever find yourself navigating unfamiliar territory in search of areas that return some value?
2. Are you a bacterium?
If your answers were (no, no) or (yes, yes) feel free to stop reading now.
I was listening to a podcast, The Biology of Freedom, from the BBC's Discovery programme this week. Towards the end they talk about how cells move around seeking food using a kind of targeted random walk.
It's called chemotaxis:[a bacterium's] movement will look like ... relatively straight swims interrupted by random tumbles that reorient [it] ... By repeatedly evaluating their course ... bacteria can direct their motion to find favorable locations with high concentrations of attractantsA short questionnaire:
1. Would you be interested in a heuristic that might help guide your exploration?
2. Are you a tester?
If your answers are (yes, yes) there might be the germ of an idea for you here.Image: https://flic.kr/p/5oeqni
The Guardian: "In truth, many shared bathrooms are cleaner than, say, the telephone on your office desk, your computer keyboard, the dishcloth by your kitchen sink ... [but] it is perfectly natural, perfectly logical, that we expect [faecal bacteria] to be congregating in greatest numbers somewhere around the toilet bowl"Image: https://flic.kr/p/iE7jP
That aside, is there a problem here?
The Guardian (amongst others) has been enjoying in-store pricing oddities for a while and, on the face of it, there's something not quite right about this Amazon item either.
But would you simply chuckle and shout bug?
Let's make it an exercise in creative thinking to suggest scenarios where it's reasonable for it to be cheaper to buy the CD and the MP3s than to buy the MP3s alone. Stick 'em in the comments if you like.
- finding associations (or the lack of them) between the system under test and something else.
- connecting the product's behaviour with some notion of what it's supposed to do - or not do.
- building links between components in your mental model of how an application works.
- relating a new bug to previous ones.
- identifying areas of consensus or disagreement, bringing concepts and people together.
I am. Or, at least, I was when I first thought it and asked myself whether it had any validity. And I guess I'm hoping to connect with you, right now. So let's say I am. Here's what happened...
While I was writing No F in Spec a couple of weeks ago I was also finishing up a round of annual appraisals and had recently attended a UK Test Management Forum meeting where I'd been introduced to the term futurespective. It occurred to me that there's a link between specification, introspection (which I'd been praising and encouraging in appraisal) and futurespective.
Coincidence to have them all drop on me at once but it piqued my interest and so I looked them up to see if they shared a common root. It turns that they're from two distinct Latin words (to view, to be specific) so there's no etymological connection, although it doesn't matter: it spurred an interesting thought, one that I'd never brought out explicitly before; specification as a view of (some aspects of) intended behaviour.
But the process of looking for the connection triggered another thought on the nature of connections themselves. I stored it away for later and wasn't actively pursuing it when the phase only connect floated into my mind. A phrase that I'd heard but never understood the context of. So I looked it up. Interesting. Later the same day I was browsing Twitter and this tweet from @kinofrost leapt out of my timeline:
Listening to @GaryDelaney on @ComComPod. Loads of information on cross-role and cross-purpose heuristics, totally fascinating.Cross-role, cross-purpose? Connections! Delaney is a comedian whose stock in trade is the one-liner and in the podcast the tweet refers to he deconstructs one, explaining how he starts with a punchline and then looks for related ideas that can be used to build to it, enabling it to be seen only at the reveal. The humour comes from multiple connections being possible at the same time and the listener being forced to switch from one to the other. (In passing he also makes his own connections between the delivery style of comedians and evangelical preachers, hype men, Martin Luther King and Hitler.)
And in turn that reminded me of a forum post I made at the Software Testing Club a couple of years ago where I was asking what testers just do naturally that they think is useful to them as a testing tool. For me, punning is an innate habit and feels intuitively very similar to what Delaney describes: take some concept and run through things that have some kind of relationship to it looking for an ambiguity to exploit. James Christie noted that he, as a matter of course, "mentally check[s] relationships. Mistakes in newspapers leap out at me, like someone being born in 1940, then a few paragraphs later entering college at the age of 18 in 1957."
We both picked out habits that build relationships. I wondered whether the vogue for mind maps in testing is a reflection of this more generally? I began to see an analogy between a network of connections and an exploratory search space - which branch to follow? Why? When? I started to think about the value of being exposed to a wide range of inputs in order to enable more connections. I thought about the need to filter connections out to avoid noise; about how repeated bad connections - biases? - can be identified and cast aside. I speculated about testing heuristics and mnemonics as devices that suggest ways in which connections have been made previously in software testing and which could be useful again. And I thought more about how lateral thinking can be valuable in this respect too; with puns there's no reason for a logical relationship between two concepts to exist as long as the result is a useful one.
And so I started writing it up, to get it straight in my head - which is how it works best for me - and, in the course of doing that I realised I'm connecting with my earlier train of thought but wondering something more general this time: maybe testing isn't helped by the skill of making connections but instead maybe testing is making connections?
Then as I concluded that round of writing I found I'd connected back to the word archaeology I was doing at the beginning, with a new word I learned looking up my Latin. I'd ended up with an F in conspectus.
Image: "Novus planiglobii terrestris per utrumque polum conspectus" by http://maps.bpl.org, https://flic.kr/p/gFEjLk
- The literal correctness. There really is no letter "f" in the string "spec".
- The indirect contradiction. "Spec" is short for "specification" and there is an "f" in that.
- The implied rudeness. See also There's Only One F in Fulham.
- The pun on the rudeness. As Homer says, it's funny cos it's (so often) true.
- The metaphorical contradiction. Even if there is no f-ing spec, or story, or whatever, there's always something you can base an investigation on.
- The number of interpretations and nuances I could find in it.
Part of our job as testers is to be able to recognise this kind of potential for ambiguity and multiplicity, maintain contradictory interpretations for as long as it's useful but then tease apart what can and should be separated when it makes sense to do so.
No F in spec? So what? There's an F in tester!
A recurring theme of mine is building flimsy analogies between software processes and other processesTo give a very recent trivial, but valuable to me, example: I use filters aggressively for sorting much of my mail into a hierarchy of folders for batch reading or archiving. However, there's a category of mail that I want to sort manually, not least because it forces me to read it. Over time, sub-categorisation within it has become more complex but for now I still see value in preserving it. This means that my manual filtering progressively involves more and more dragging and dropping through hierarchies of folders. This is inefficient and irritating.
In this example it's no great conceptual leap to think of some kind of analogy between the mail client folder structure and a file system. When I move an email from one folder to another I am performing an operation similar to a file being copied in a file system. So, in a file system, is there a way to reference deep folder structure conveniently? Well, yes, there is: symbolic links, also known as shortcuts, can preserve the structure (which I value) while making "virtual" folders available anywhere (which I want for efficiency).
A quick search for "Thunderbird shortcuts folders" throws up Tabbed Folders, which gives me what I need and an immediate productivity gain. By asking how the analogy domain would resolve the issue, we can expose a solution in the problem domain.
This particular example fits well with the Comparable Products consistency heuristic from HICCUPPS:
We expect the system to be consistent with systems that are in some way comparable. This includes other products in the same product line; competitive products, services, or systems; or products that are not in the same category but which process the same data; or alternative processes or algorithms.but an analogy can be to anything, software or not, and be useful. I invoke analogy frequently - I might simply ask "what is this like?" or "what are synonyms of the important elements?" - not just when actively testing but also when thinking through all sorts of problems. I find it can help to move a thought on, focus it, or broaden it out, or reject it. It may be a piece of temporary scaffolding to a longer train of thought, or a seed for lateral reasoning.
Even so, despite the value that the example analogy gives, many aspects of the two systems are not analogous at all. For instance, I am unlikely to want to my mailer to have the kinds of complex read/write/execute permission permutations that most file systems do. Like other kinds of heuristics, analogies are usually incomplete and it's important to bear that in mind.
1. That's just a joke; it's actually completely incoherent. No but, really, we do get on well although the last time I saw his wife, her opening conversational gambit was "How's your shit blog going?"