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James Thomashttp://www.blogger.com/profile/01185262890702402757noreply@blogger.comBlogger157125
Updated: 1 day 7 hours ago

The Wrought Idea

Sat, 01/24/2015 - 11:18

So the other day I bleeted about how I like to write to help me collect my thoughts and how that feels like a dialogue through the page.

Somewhat ironically, you might think, I hadn't intended that action to be more than jotting down the realisation I'd just had.  But, of course, as soon as it was out there I began to challenge it, and by proxy myself.

Here's a sample:
  • "When I need to think through an issue, I write." Really? Always?
  • Does getting the ideas down free mental resource for inspection of the ideas? 
  • Does making it concrete mean that it's easier to spot inconsistency? I know people who are adept at maintaining multiple views of a thing. When a different angle of attack is used a different kind of defence is made. The defences are not compatible, but because they are never seen together, this can be overlooked.
  • Why didn't I talk about pictures? I draw a lot too.
  • I recalled that James Lyndsay mentioned the other day that he makes a point of writing down his hypotheses during exploratory testing. If he fails to do that he feels he does a worse job.
  • What about giving some examples - could I make a draft, list the challenges, show the new draft and repeat?
  • I just read a great piece on George Carlin where he says "So I’m drawn to something and start writing about it ... and that’s when the real ideas pounce out, and new ideas, and new thoughts and images, and then bing, ba-bam ba-boom, that’s the creative part."
  • Haven't I been in this area before?
And so I write and right until my thought is wrought.Image: https://flic.kr/p/aNMhL4
Categories: Blogs

State of the Art

Fri, 01/16/2015 - 08:17
A trend is better than a snapshot, right?

That's Joel Montvelisky, introducing the State of Testing Survey 2015.

I'm certainly in favour of data and I'd agree that a trend can be better than a snapshot. But if you want to know the state of some system right now for the investigation you're performing right now and you've no reason to think that right now is related to back then, then perhaps right now you'll take the snapshot, right?

Openness and openness to challenge was one of the things I liked most about the previous, inaugural, survey. In the discussion between Jerry Weinberg and Fiona Charles about the results (transcript here) Weinberg's opening remarks include:
We need to be careful on how we interpret this data [...] One way to look at the survey is that it’s giving information about what information we should be getting. I'm looking forward to seeing what was learned.
Image: https://flic.kr/p/oq5E3x
Categories: Blogs

Why I'm Always Write

Thu, 01/15/2015 - 23:18
When I need to think through an issue, I write. And when I do that I feel I'm having a dialogue with myself. I write. I challenge. I rewrite. I re-challenge. Within or across drafts. Dynamically or with reflection. At length or fleetingly. As a means to an end, or as an end in itself. It both clarifies and exposes the need for clarification. For me.

When I asked on Twitter I got a couple of useful references to similar things:
I'd be very interested in any others.

Edit: I followed up on this post later.Image: https://flic.kr/p/5UWSs9
Categories: Blogs

Special Offers

Fri, 01/09/2015 - 10:58
Linguamatics hosted James Lyndsay at the Cambridge Tester Meetup  last night.

His workshop started with some improv games based on the work of Keith Johnstone  which, by exposing our awkwardness, showed us that we were conditioned to behave in certain ways, that we have patterns of operation. As testers we want to be free to think, investigate, explore, perform.

A second round of exercises had us giving and receiving imaginary presents to illustrate the notions of offers and blocking. Here, one person creates a context for the other (the offer) which can be accepted or rejected, but both parties must be aware of the ways in which they might constrain that context (the block).

For example, I might mime the shape of something to pass to my partner and then, as their hands reach for it, change the shape. This constitutes a block - I am not collaborating as fully as I might. Blocks come in many varieties; the receiver may block by not accepting the gift or refuting some aspect of the context.

We formed small groups assigned to apply the notion of an offer - with no suggestion about the ways in which we might do it - to testing a task management application. Here's just a few of the thoughts I noted down, pretty much raw out of my notes:
  • every interactive component of the application is an offer.
  • the user interface, user experience, terminology, documentation and all other aspects of the product are offers to make a judgement about the software, its quality, its value to the user, its function, its domain and so on.
  • offers may be implicit or explicit.
  • is there a difference between an offer that is recognised as such by the receiver and one which is not?
  • some offers are compound; a form has a submit button but also fields that can be filled in. The fields are individually offers, but the whole is also an offer.
  • some offers are conditional; a particular field in a form might only be available when other fields are populated.
  • it is frustrating when the the relationships at play in a conditional offer are not clear. An offer that appears and is then removed for reasons the reciver doesn't understand is distracting and frustrating. The receiver feels let down.
  • when we saw some offer (say, a date field in a form), our first thought was often how "can we accept this offer in a way that violates its likely intent?" (say, a date in the past for the start of a task).
  • is the receiver blocking when they accept an offer in a way not intended by the giver?
  • an offer that doesn't obviously result in some change is confusing to the receiver; for example, pressing a button but seeing no obvious consequence.
  • the likely consequence of accepting some offers is clear, but in others we're taking a leap of faith. The error dialog that says "You tried to do some complex action, but there was a problem. Do you want to continue? Choose OK or Cancel" doesn't help us to understand the consequences of accepting the offer.
  • rejecting an offer is not a null action. It still has consequences.
  • accepting or rejecting offers can have unintended consequences. When multiple groups were testing the same application we were (probably) changing each others' data, resulting in some confusion (to my group, at least, until we had a hypothesis).
  • inconsistency of offers is confusing. Multiple different ways to report form submission failure; different icons for the same functionality; the same functionality under buttons with different icons; use of colour in some places for some data, but not others. The receiver doesn't know what to make of offers that are apparently similar to others in some respects - should they expect the same outcome or something different? This is a kind of block.
  • an offer that is taken up (say, a form is submitted) but then results in a block (say, a validation error) is unpleasant for the person who accepted the offer. It is possibly more unpleasant than an offer that is taken up only after all negotiation on the terms of the offer has been done (such as when fields are validated during input).
  • offers are always choices. If nothing else the receiver can accept or reject. But they are often more than binary, even in simple cases like an OK/Cancel dialog with two obvious buttons there may be a close button in the title bar, keyboard shortcuts for cancelling (often Escape), different ways to navigate the dialog (e.g. tab, shift-tab, using space or return to select a button, or using the mouse); the dialog might be modal or not and if not, the offer is deferrable.
  • offers can be thought of as nodes on a graph of the testing search space. And the reverse: any node on a graph of the search space is an offer, although not necessarily one made by the software, but perhaps made by the data or the tester, or some external context or constraint (such as time or project priorities).
  • deferring choices is a kind of blocking - is it important to defer consciously?
  • noticing, and accepting, offers is a way of breaking patterns of behaviour. Perhaps I always get to the admin page of some product by opening it, clicking on the Tools menu and selecting Admin. But the product offers me many other ways of getting there - I can create a browser bookmark for that function; I can customise the toolbar of the application; I can launch the application using an Admin-only account. Accepting the offers puts me in a different context, ready to see something different(ly).
  • There's a literature on human psychology around giving (also giving up) and receiving. How much of this could be relevant to human-computer interactions?
  • I like to give software the chance to demonstrate itself to me. Am I making it an offer?
  • what can I do to avoid being overwhelmed by the explosion of offers?
I've only recently linked improv and testing (and I'm quite late to that party) but just recasting my interaction with the software as a sequence of offers and blocks last night generated tons of ideas and a new tool to consider deploying on a very familiar problem.

That possibility of a different perspective, a new view, a cleaner vision is incredibly exciting, but until I've used the tool some more, built and broken something with it, uncovered some of its foibles and fortes and put some sweat into its handles, I won't know whether it's a microscope, telescope, a prism, a mirror, a window, rose-tinted spectacles or a blindfold.
Image: https://flic.kr/p/aGhYRT
Categories: Blogs

Meet Meat Lewis's

Sat, 01/03/2015 - 19:10


When I was a boy there was a huge department store in Birmingham called Lewis's and one year I got a badge from its Christmas Grotto.

Meet Me At Lewis's it said.

Meet Meat Lewis's I read.

I like to think this was an early indication that I was alert to alternative interpretations ... because the alternative interpretation isn't very appealing.

And I like to keep that in mind when I'm reporting an issue ... because there is invariably an alternative to my interpretation and it might be more appealing.
Image: Badge Collectors Circle
Categories: Blogs

It's the Thought that Counts

Tue, 12/30/2014 - 10:01
A year ago, I wrote about reaching the milestone of 100 blog posts. Part of my initial challenge to myself had been to write regularly:
Trying to post around once a week has been a useful discipline. If nothing else it's motivational. I've managed to carve out time even when life and work have been hectic ...Twelve months on and I was surprised to see that I'd gone past the 150 without noticing. Some of my motivation back when I started came from a bit of self-analysis:
I started to think more deeply about what I was doing and how I was doing it and tried to tease out where my actions, intuitions, ideas and mistakes were coming from. Now, having introspected some more I realise that one of the things I'm getting out of blogging these days is the act itself.

Phil Kay talked about "keeping loose" in the interview I quoted recently and Rick Rubin, describing Eminem, said much the same thing in another:
he is always writing ... he knows 99% of it will never be used ... he wants his facility to be there so that when he needs to write something ... he's just master-level practise all the time.I don't pretend that every thought I have is revolutionary, revelatory or even revealable - there are many, many thoughts unpublished and best left that way - but by forcing myself to think I am getting in the habit of thinking and, I hope, thinking is becoming my habit.
Image: https://flic.kr/p/kynJ5E
Categories: Blogs

Oh, Kay!

Sat, 12/20/2014 - 08:28


Phil Kay is a stand-up comedian known for his love of live work and improvisation. In his interview for The Comedian's Comedian recently he said some things that resonated with me.

When he's talking about the impression others may have that there are rules of improvisation, I'm thinking about testing:
There's not a principle that I must avoid things I've done before ... There's plenty of room in the form for doing brand new things [but that's] not the aim, that I must do it brand new.When he's talking about how he constantly watches for and collects data that he hopes will come in useful later, that will help him to make connections and that will keep his mojo working when he's not on stage, I'm thinking about testing:
I write notes all the time ... anything interesting that comes to me ... but [the notes] are not the thing. The thing is the fact that I'm watching out for stuff ... like a boxer keeping loose ... on stage I hope they'll all come together.When he's talking about how not being tied to a prescribed structure opens up possibilities, I'm thinking about testing:Allow the best to be a thing that could happen.  If you're trying to enforce something, no best can ever happen.And when he talking about how it doesn't work sometimes, I'm still thinking about testing:
The list of traumatic failure gigs is so long ...  I accept the risk it'll go wrong.Looking around for related material I found that James Lyndsay has a workshop on Improvising for Testers, and Damian Synadinos has one specifically on the links between improv comedy and testing, Improv(e) Your Testing! Tips and Tricks from Jester to Tester. George Dinwiddie has also written about TDD and Improv.
Image: https://flic.kr/p/hquBik
Categories: Blogs

The So in Absolute

Fri, 12/19/2014 - 08:51
In a job interview once, the candidate said to me
All software requires regression testingand I said
 All software requires regression testing?(I didn't think I could put stress on regression testing as well. It might have sounded like I was shouting.)

The candidate said - after a reasonably lengthy pause - simply
Yes. When reporting something as apparently absolute, I want my testers to caveat, to contextualise, to define the scope of the statement
I'm saying X, so long as ...When presented with an unequivocal, absolute, universal statement, I want my testers to be thinking about the ramifications, to be testing it
You're saying X, so what about ...Well, if I want to stay on the right side of Batman, I want them to do those things so far as it makes sense in their context.

So here's a bit of seasonal fun: what scenarios can you think of where software doesn't require regression testing? Be as creative as you like and stuff them into the comments.
Image: https://flic.kr/p/7N8dfY
Categories: Blogs