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Hiccupps - James Thomas
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James Thomas
Updated: 17 hours 45 min ago

Trying to be CEWT

Sun, 07/05/2015 - 08:03

I attend, enjoy, hopefully contribute to, and get a lot from, the local tester meetups and Lean Coffee in Cambridge. But I'd had the thought kicking around for a long time that I'd like to try a peer workshop inspired by MEWT, DEWTLEWT and the like. I finally asked a few others, including the local meetup organisers, and got mostly positive noises, so I decided to give it a go.

I wrote a short statement to frame the idea, based on LEWT's:
CEWT (Cambirdge Exploratory Workshop on Testing) is an exploratory peer workshop. We take the view that discussions are more interesting than lectures. We enjoy diverse ideas, and limit some activities in order to work with more ideas.and proposed a mission for an initial attempt to validate it locally on a small scale.

Other local testers helped to refine the details in usual the testing ways - you know: criticism, questions, thought experiments, challenges, comparisons, mockery and the rest - and a list of potential attendees was drawn up. In parallel I solicited advice from the groups that had inspired me, asking what's worked well and what what hasn't, particularly in the events and in the organisation of them.

This post aggregates and roughly sorts their responses, removing mentions of specific groups or people. I'd like to thank all of them for being so forthcoming and open with their experience and advice.

I wanted to pull two specific comments out, two that I tried to keep uppermost in my mind thoughout:
  • As you will understand: there is no best practice.
  • The thought is this: at a peer workshop, I should consider everyone my peer. For the duration of the workshop, I will attempt to listen to – and question – anyone who I share the room with, regardless of whether they have more or less experience, or whether I generally consider their work good or poor, whether I am fascinated, bored, repelled, awestruck or confused. 

I started this process at the end of April and yesterday (July 4th) we had CEWT #1. There were a few rough edges, and I learnt a thing or two, and I already know some things I would change if and when we have another, but there'll more on that later. For now, here's that aggregated advice for anyone else thinking of trying it ...

StartingWe started small: in a kitchen with only a few people.

I have no idea how many interested people you know, but it is smart to keep it either very small to start with, which you can organise by yourself. Or make it a bit bigger, but then you should have some help.

I’d thought about doing this for about 12 months before our first one, and it was only when I started to talk to the others about the idea that I found they had similar thoughts and things started to move.

SizeMy experience is that you need about 10 people to have good discussions in LAWST style. 7-8 people could be okay, although I don't think you need facilitation with such a small group. You also have the risk that if 1 or 2 do not show up, your group becomes even smaller.

We have limited it to a maximum of around 25 people. As we are always looking to improve, this all might be subject to change in the near future.

I had assumed [the sense that in a peer conference everyone is granted the status of everyone else's peer] was a central guidance to peer conferences – even if, in practice, it was occasionally hard to see such respect in action. However, I’m no longer certain of this; when I’ve shared my position with other peer conference organisers, it has been (generally) either alien or less important. I think this gets hard with >8 people, and is pretty impossible with >15. A 25-person room will naturally form groups, gurus, acolytes and pariahs – so it’s ludicrous of me to expect larger peer conferences to work this way.

Personally, I think the max size for any peer group is rather under 20.

AttendeesWe have a very simple approach to application and invitation - if someone asks if they can come, then they can. Done. I tell people that there's a cutoff, what the cutoff is, and that people who apply when numbers are under the cutoff can come, and people who are later can't come.

Currently, I ask prior participants to set the theme and the date, so they know before anyone else. This gives them precedence, but if they don't take the opportunity, they don't get to go.

Wrong people: who am I to judge? However, if someone applies out of the blue, I'll talk with them so that they can judge if they're the right person. Usually their judgement is sound.

If someone's interested enough to ask to come and to give up their time to be part of it, then they're in - whether they 'fit' the group, or not. We have had people who didn't fit, and sometimes they've been wonderful contributors, sometimes they've triggered good conversations and interesting realignments. No one has walked out yet. A few participants have complained about others, and I can deal with that as facilitator if something is said early enough. I sometimes find my own comfort challenged – but I don't think it's my role to exclude someone, and I'm sure that the group is muscular enough to chew someone up and spit them out if it absolutely has to.

We are thinking of adding the possibility to choose one speaker chosen by the participants.

All organisers can introduce one (sometimes two) others to the peer conference. We often try to invite somebody outside of the testing circle to add some other views to our conferences.

If you are inviting people, then invite people you think will have something interesting to say on the topic rather than people you know or feel you need to invite out of loyalty – remember it’s a firstly a learning opportunity not a social gathering.

Even if you don’t know someone well but want to invite them, don’t be afraid to reach out and ask them – most people like to be invited to these things.

I find that the more diverse the group, the more it offers guarded respect to each individual: our two-people-with-less-than-two-years-experience thing helps with the diversity.

The Organising TeamWe are organized as a small core group with assigned roles - which rotate per event - to some of us to organize the peer conference.

A small team will help give the idea some momentum, generate more interesting ideas and share the effort of creating the event.

Play to people's strengths - we are all very different with unique skills and personalities, but we each bring something to the table.

If you have a team then agree roles (we change roles each time) to ensure things get done. Generally you will need:

  • 1 x Content Owner – responsible for describing the theme, reviewing and feedback on abstracts, ensuring all attendees have an abstract.
  • 1 x Facilitator – responsible for managing the flow of the discussions on the day (doesn’t need to speak)
  • 1-2 x Organisers – responsible for logistics (venue arrangements, ensuring costs are covered either by sponsorship or attendees, providing travel and hotel information, keeping in touch with attendees etc.).
We have introduced the formal role of 'content owner' in the conferences to keep us from going all over the place. He/she chooses the speakers. The conferences are centred around experience reports and discussions are facilitated by a facilitator.
Find some awesome people to work with, it's a lot of work for one person!
Logistics: BeforeChoose relevant and open topics that encourage a wider range of views and discussions.

Find a good venue.

Food is important - quality grub adds to the vibe.

All participants are obliged to send in a proposal for a small presentation (organisers too).

Asking for abstracts (and receiving them) helps to focus people's minds ahead of the day.

Chase people for abstracts, review and feedback on the abstracts. In my opinion, if you don’t have abstracts then some attendees will forget to prepare and attempt to wing-it resulting in less interesting talks and discussions. However that does depend upon who the attendees are.

Don't underestimate the effort required to invite people or encourage people to attend (if you have an open attendance). You will have people who drop out in the lead up to the event so be prepared.

Plan ahead, we have started planning 3-4 months ahead to give people time to commit and provide abstracts. When you invite or accept people to attend, ensure they know the outline plan with milestones such as confirming attendance, when initial and final abstracts are due etc.

Keep regular contact with those who are attending to keep them informed of plans, reminders of upcoming milestones, hotel and travel arrangements etc.

Logistics: On the DayIf you can, find someone to do the distracting mid-workshop logistics (i.e. who’s eating what, taking calls from late people).

Trying to get through all of the talks works well - fast paced and high energy.

Not worrying about getting through all the talks works well too - slower and deeper.

Breaks: as long as possible without losing momentum and direction. Proper, multithreaded conversation happens in the breaks. The “talks” are a primer for the discussions, the discussions a primer for conversations – and connections and ideas grow from those conversations.

Set-up: everyone should be able to see everyone else’s face, all the time. Other than that, don’t be precious about room layout, drinks, stationery, power supplies, matching tables or any other fripperies. Indeed, the more informal, the better. Help participants to feel comfortable, not coddled, and certainly not privileged.

Visuals: I strongly discourage slides, and encourage flip charts. They’re more immediate, more interactive, and less goes wrong. I prefer flipcharts to whiteboards, as they’re more permanent and one can flip back.

Dot voting lean coffee style gets everyone involved.

Keep presentations nice and short; 15 minutes max.

Ordering: the room gets to decide what goes early (the facilitator gets a deciding vote) – so topics at the end usually get less time. This can make them more focussed, and the speaker will often be able to tune what they have so that it suits the attention of the room.

We don't have a content owner deciding what gets attention or priority, we don't have a scribe making public notes, we don't have a mission. We all agree at the outset to be facilitated, which helps - but we don't necessarily decide what 'facilitation' is.

The relatively-fast turnover of topics helps, a lot.

FacilitationAsk the room to accept you as someone who will regulate the ebb and flow. Don’t direct (or dictate) the content.

Accept that, as facilitator, you’re not really at the workshop, and give the primary part of your attention to emotions of the people in the room, not to what is being said.

Monitoring people's energy and staying fluid with structure and content helps keep things moving.

When I'm facilitating, I try to do the job with as light a touch as possible - basically I keep a queue, keep my eye on time, and try to help the group stay within the discipline of conversing in a way that lets everyone talk, and everyone listen. Even that, however, requires my complete attention on the room - which means I don't make many notes for myself or contribute much to the conversation.

The facilitator is not a peer. The participants give the facilitator their attention, and their permission to stop and start them, in pursuit of a greater goal then their own individual airtime. The facilitator accepts their temporary status, and returns the favour by serving the group and putting his or her own needs aside.

Name cards can help your own flow.

Getting everyone’s attention focussed from chat to the group: There are clutch of approaches. Most work, most use sound or visual cues. I pick up whatever (physical) sound effect I’ve not used recently. Singing bowls, thundersticks, jingle toys. It gets to a point where, when everyone’s concentrating, one has only to pick the thing up to make people switch focus. My favourite was the vuvuzela – a disgustingly loud football horn. I don’t remember blowing it at all (except to try it out).

For each new topic, I try to remember to announce the topic and speaker, ask how much time they want to talk, support them no more than they want, and to ask the room to thank them at the end.

As someone starts their topic, I split the audio recording and also write down the start time, the time the speaker’s asked me to give them, and the time we’ve all agreed to spend on the topic. I write those as absolutes, not relatives, because calculation takes your attention – (ie 10:03:15, 10:13, 10:33). My laptop clock is always in view.

I record audio, and this also keeps track of elapsed relative time (i.e. 0:17:30 since the topic started).

I keep track of the timing info and the current queue on the same topic card that I’ve pulled off the wall – the card that started with a topic title and ended up covered in sticky dots. Keeping track of the question stack/queue is easy – it’s a list, sometimes with indents and squiggles. If sub-topics are spawning more sub-topics, do ask the room if they want to go deep or wide.

Allow the clock to rule, allow the room to override the clock. Don’t worry about going short. The room will need to regularly be reminded of the time available as the stack builds up and time burns down.

Every few questions, I’ll tell the room who the next 2-4 people on the stack. If we’re in open discussion, and I feel the room needs to move on, I’ll catch the eye of whoever is speaking, breathe in as they finish a point, and indicate the next question by pointing to someone and saying their name.

Don’t fear dropping a person from the queue – it’s your job. But don’t drop them slyly, either.

I bite my tongue (metaphorically, mostly) to stop (my) witty interjections; they’re not usually that great, and it’s an abuse of the role the room has allowed me to take. For the same reason, I don’t usually ask many questions – but I don’t absolutely exclude myself, either.

If, as time runs out on a topic, you give participants the chance to pull their questions or comments to let other questions be asked, they might just do it.

As a facilitator, the people who give me problems are those who assume their contribution is more important than the person who currently has the room's attention, the people with one thing to say and a big personal stake in having it heard, and people who stop listening after someone uses a word that is hot (or dull) for them.

I'm sometimes a problem if I get involved, and I'm lucky that people help me rein myself in if I get out of hand. But problems are few and often easy to deal with if one has a feel for the tolerance and firmness that suits the mood of the room (the whole group, not just the loud participants).

If everyone speaks at once, I need to decide when and how and whether to stop them – and if people only speak when their feel they have permission to speak, I’ve done it all wrong and need to shake up the room. Stay between these extremes, let people (including yourself) be human, aim for fine chat, and you’ll have done a job that anyone should be satisfied with.

I find that expression and body position will tell you whether someone has a new point or a follow-on (and if not, just ask), so I think that k-cards in something with <20 people are a constraining gadget.

I don’t tend to give much leeway to an extended back-and-forth between speaker and a single interlocutor.

Discourage bad behaviour more than the person who is behaving badly: Firmly and clearly block people who are being bullies, then swiftly forgive them and allow them a chance to redeem themselves in the eyes of their peers.

See for general ideas: Paul Holland on facilitation.

Success or failure (pick your own definition) is mostly down to the group, not the facilitator – but you are, as Jerry Weinberg might say, responsible for your reactions to the group.
Categories: Blogs

Pizza Chants

Sun, 06/28/2015 - 06:41

So my wife caught me giggling to myself in the kitchen. Why? I'd just seen a really corny pun on peace and peas. It wasn't the "classic" above but it was the same kind of thing. In fact, it wasn't the joke itself that had caused me to crack my face at all, but the thoughts spurred from the desire to make a better one from the same phonetic premise.

The first thing I come up with is:
Give Pisa chanceThis slight variation on the well-known punchline is a plausible sentence but to make it work as a joke I need a context that can produce it. I'm working backwards from a result to look for some setup in which it is coherent:
Did you know that casinos are illegal in some parts of Italy? Apparently a bunch of gamblers held a candlelit protest overnight. They were singing "All we are saying is give Pisa chance."This is also a testing pattern. When you're looking at responses from a system, a useful approach to finding potential issues can be:
  • I've got X. 
  • By changing X a little I can get Y. 
  • Y is plausible. 
  • Y would be bad. 
  • What context could give me Y?
The comedian Milton Jones has a beautiful gag which is a series of one-liners with the punch line "Your house stinks" spread out in his set:
 Anyone here own a cat?
 Any students in tonight?
So, you know what the punch line is going to be, what context might give a laugh here?  He goes for:
Is anyone in the audience an aromatherapist?Which is not only funny, but also a (comedy) rule of three.

Meanwhile, back in the kitchen, I am busy applying another pattern - I think of it loosely as the Spooner - where you can look for the funny by permuting some aspect(s) of multiple elements. For example switching the initial sounds of peace and chance:
Give cheeser pants
Give cheetahs pants
Give cheaters pants
Give cheetah's pants
Small beer, perhaps. No obviously gut-busting laughs here, I'll grant you. But you could imagine contexts in which you could set these some of these up as jokes, although I will say that if you search for "cheetahs pants" as I did, looking for clues to such a context, you get a lot of photos of leopard skin leggings. Which - fashion naif that I am - violated both my expectations and my eyes.

But that's testing too: generate ideas and choosing to use them or not (at the moment). Sometimes rote generation  by some formula like this is productive and sometimes not so much. As it happens, I decide to try to stretch this line further (like some of those leggings) and end up with:
Give peaches pantsWhich I found an amusing idea (this was the point my wife came to ask what had happened to her coffee) although probably a step too far in terms of plausibility... but I later found this picture:

To relate this back to testing with a specific example: imagine you have some functionality that accepts a couple of arguments. You might ask yourself questions like these:
  • what happens if the arguments are given in the wrong position?
  • does the structure, naming, usage etc of this functionality make it likely that users will mix up the arguments?
  • how would someone spot that they had made this kind of mistake?
I find an interesting overlap in techniques and skills I use for joking and testing and I use one to keep in trim for the other. I'll be talking about it at the Cambridge Tester Meetup and the UKTMF next month and then EuroSTAR in November.
Images:, The Crunchy Carrot
Categories: Blogs

Screen Test

Wed, 06/24/2015 - 21:47
Screen is a godsend for those of us who work at the command line on Linux servers. It provides a way to persist session state across connections to the server and to run multiple terminals in parallel from within in one application.

If you've ever suffered from dropped connections to the server killing your session and all of your running applications, or ever wanted to kick off long-running test code at work before you leave, peek at it when you get home and then pick it up again in the morning as if you'd never been away, or run multiple PuTTY sessions on the same server and got lost in a whirlwind of windows, screen is for you.

I use it pretty much every day.

Useful links:
Image: Wikipedia
Categories: Blogs

UI Testing Excellence

Fri, 06/12/2015 - 06:18
So I had a character picker to test across three releases, call them A, B and C.

Between A and B new characters had been added and there was a requirement that a certain range of the Latin-1 character set must be fully-populated by these additions. Between B and C there should be no differences.

Putting functional testing of the component aside, I wondered how I could efficiently compare two versions of a graphical interface component (a) for the characters on their labels and (b) for the codes of the characters represented by them. And then do it again for another pair of versions.

On a hunch, I tried selecting all of the characters in the component from release A and copy-pasting them into Excel. A little inspection convinced me that the characters had been copied reliably. So I did the same for release B. And then I simply used Excel to compare cell values for corresponding cells for the two releases. Something as naive as this does the trick, showing y where they are the same and n where not:
=IF(K3=B3,"y","n")And then I wondered if I could extract the underlying character codes using the CODE function. For the characters I needed to care about in this work, I could do it trivially:
=CODE(B3)Again, inspections convinced me that the codes were the ones I was expecting where I needed them and so I extracted the codes and diffed them with the same kind of comparison. The patterns of y and n was the same in both cases. (In fact, I used a little conditional formatting to make this very easy as you can see in the screenshot at the top which shows a simplified version of the work.)

Then, for each number in the required range, I used a conditional count like this to check that the value occurred only once in the set of codes:
=IF(COUNTIF($B$26:$I$46,B50)=1,"y","n")And then it was easy again to eyeball for the differences I wanted.  Better yet, to do the second comparison all I needed to do was copy paste C's picker characters over the top of A's and reinspect the differences.

We might regard this work as automation. Or not. For me, for practical purposes, it doesn't matter so much: I tried a tool and on this occasion it gave me the value I wanted almost immediately. It's not always like that. It also wasn't the only tool I used in this work; for example, I inspected code changes and differences across the releases using Mercurial too. This helped confirm that my Excel approach to codes was a reasonable one.
Categories: Blogs

Stretching a Pint

Tue, 06/09/2015 - 08:28
At last night's Cambridge Tester Meetup, Karo talked about heuristics (slides here). After a brief introduction to the topic, she walked us through a couple of testing mnemonics:

We then split into two groups for an exercise. While the other group applied FCC CUTS VIDS to testing Karo's kitchen - in fact, a schematic and floor plan of it  - the group I was in took FEW HICCUPPS and a beer glass used at the 42nd Cambridge Beer Festival.

There's plenty of pictures of the glass at #cbf42 but to give a quick description: it's a pint glass with a loosely-themed Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy/Beer Festival mashup logo (because it's the 42nd festival, we assume) on one side and a Campaign for Real Ale (Camra) logo along with the festival name and dates on the other. It has calibrations for different amounts of beer, apparently in accordance with some kind of volume marking regulations which have a CE logo.

HICCUPPS is a set of consistency oracles and we agreed to use each of them as springboards for test ideas rather than receptacles of them, to avoid being constrained by whether an idea was "in" the category we happened to be discussing and risk losing it.

Here's a selection of the ideas we came up with. I haven't edited much, only to combine some overlapping items and lose some repetition and the notes I can't understand this morning. We didn't use the internet for the exercise, but I've looked up some references while writing this post and we could certainly use it for evidence and to inspire more questions.

  • is the glass supplied at the festival always a pint glass, this shape, this size, of this manufacturing quality? 
  • is the logo in the same position, in the same proportions, in the same style across festivals? (e.g. compare images in the festival's Flickr account)
  • are the same volume measures always printed on it (pint, half-pint, third-of-a-pint)?
  • does the glass always show the certification of volume using the CE volume mark
  • is there always a theme to the beer festival? Does it need to be reflected on the glass?
  • is it important to the festival that there is continuity or consistency across festivals, glasses etc?
  • is the festival logo on the glass intended to look this amateurish? (First impression: it's like a student rag picture) 
  • There's plenty of space on the glass, why squash the logo up in the way that has been done? (The mice have detail that's hard to see)
  • Would a simpler graphic design have been more striking? 
  • is it important that the measurements are accurate? (To what degree?)
  • are the fonts chosen appropriate for the audience? (No comic sans!)
  • is the use of colour appropriate? (The logo has to sit in front of many different colours of liquid)
  • is there any relationship between Hitchikers Guide to the Galaxy and Camra? Are there any potential negative connotations that could be made? 
  • is the glass consistent with the festival beer listing booklet, posters, staff uniforms etc?
Comparable Products
  • is there a standard shape, size, material etc for beer glasses at festivals? How about at Camra festivals? Cambridge festivals?
  • what about non-UK drinkers, what would they expect from a glass? In Britain, we still use imperial measurements but Cambridge is multicultural
  • pubs often don't have oversized beer glasses (as this one is, where the pint mark is below the top of the glass)
  • how easy is it to clean vs similar products?
  • what do similar kinds of events do about glasses? e.g. do wine festivals expect drinkers to use the same glass for red and white? Do they provide cleaning facilities for glasses? Is that part of this product?
  • is the glass solid? Will it break easily if dropped? Is the flooring chosen to be gentle on dropped glasses?
  • do Camra members have any expectations about the glass based on Camra conventions?
  • we observed what we thought were injection moulding marks on our glass - would hand-made glass be expected by any attendees? (They are already connoisseurs to some extent by going to the festival.)
  • are the volume markings correct?
  • is the time and date information printed on the glass correct?
  • is the vessel suitable for drinking beer from? Is it optimal? (What is the optimal glass for beer? cider? perry? soft drinks? Does it differ across beers?)
  • is the glass dishwasher safe?
  • would a glass from earlier beer festivals be honoured at this festival?
  • what does other festival material say, show, suggest about this glass?
  • does the glass alter the taste of its contents?
  • does the logo imply some endorsement from Douglas Adams' estate? (Particularly since Adams was from Cambridge)
  • is the glass built to last? (If so, last for what duration? The festival, life?)
  • is this really the 42nd festival? (according to who?)

User Desires
  • is it easy to drink from? to hold? to pass between people (e.g. friends for trying a taste, to the bar staff?)
  • is it stable when put down?
  • should it be more tactile, e.g. with 3D logo on it?
  • can this design of glass be stacked? is it stable when stacked?
  • is it easy to fill, can the measures be seen by the bar staff?
  • is it easy to carry multiple glasses (e.g. three in a triangle)
  • is it unique (e.g. for collectors)
  • it is robust?
  • does it have appropriate thermal properties (e.g. help to keep cold beer cold?)
  • is it safe (e.g. will it break into sharp shards when dropped?)
  • do customers desire gender-specific glasses? ("Do you want that in a lady's glass?" )
  • do customers want a glass that signifies no alcohol is in the drink? How about other kinds of specialist desires e.g. markings for gluten-free or vegetarian beer (is there such a thing, we asked? Yes.)
  • how are the glasses packaged for transport? Are they space-efficient?
  • are the production costs reasonable? affordable? 

  • what is the product here? (we have permitted ourselves to switch between the glass, use of the glass, the festival ...)
  • is the thickness of the glass appropriate, comfortable to drink from?
  • do all of the instances of this glass at the festival look the same? Should they? To what tolerance?
  • should there be half-pint glasses too?
  • is the glass consistent with other aspects of branding?
  • what is the Camra logo about? It's looks like it has a lid. Is that intentional?

  • do I want to drink out of it?
  • is it obvious that it's a receptable for liquids? For drinking from?
  • is it suitable for display?
  • does it look good in a collection of such glasses?
  • can it be easily, safely, efficiently transported and stored?
  • will the colours and other markings fade?
  • what else could it be used for? (e.g. holding coins or pens, as a vase, watering flowers, magnifying glass ... but this is a different testing exercise)
  • does it chip easily?
  • could you hurt people with it? (deliberately or not?)
  • is the glass inert?
  • can you stick it in your pocket when you need your hands free?
  • is it compatible with devices for holding glasses (e.g. deckchairs, belts)

  • what is the CE volume marking? Would we need to test it in some way (e.g. check that the manufacturer is licensed to use it?)
  • are there hygiene standards for drinking vessels (e.g. certain grade, thickness, transparency of glass?)
  • are there conventions, contractual agreements, regulations about using the name of Cambridge or Camra in association with events?
  • does the festival have a license to sell beer?
  • do the bar staff need licenses or training to serve beer?
  • some brands of beer might require their product to be served in glasses branded for them?
  • does the logo conform to copyright law (e.g. with Hitchikers Guide to the Galaxy images)
  • does the glass fulfil the needs of the beer? (e.g. to have its head displayed, show bubbles, permit its colour to be appreciated, compared with others etc)
  • are glasses required to be round? (if so, how round? Could it be square? elliptical?)

  • what are common problems of any kind of branded product? branding wearing off, typos, correct copy etc
  • glasses with handles are often a pain to fit into a cupboard

  • the logo might not be obvious to people not in the intersection of Hitchikers and Camra  fans
  • explainability is a kind of testability heuristic
  • the precise location of the festival isn't given, only the town. Should it be precise?

  • this is a pint glass to most Brits at least. To others it might just be a glass
  • is it obvious a beer glass? Probably it is to those familiar with the conventions of such glasses
  • does it obey the laws of physics?
  • is it a practical object, or a collectors item?
  • why does it have a wooden barrel in the logo when the beer at the festival no longer uses them?
  • does the audience expect nostalgia?
  • is it quintessentially English?

Images: Twitter, Wikipedia, Amazon 
Categories: Blogs

On Humility and Being Humbel

Sun, 06/07/2015 - 21:37
From plitter to drabbletail: the words we love is list of lexical lostlings, of forgotten or underused words such as clarty, slipe, eschew and splunder that have special appeal to a selection of leading authors. In his piece, Robert MacFarlane offers the term apophenia, attributed to Klaus Conrad, and defined as:
the unmotivated perception of connections between entities or data ... abnormal meaningfulness.MacFarlane counters apophenic tendencies by approaching his work in a way he describes using another uncommon locution, humbel, from James Stout Angus, the Shetland poet:
to reduce protruberant parts ... as the beard of corn is knocked off by ... thrashing with a flail.I've long thought that it's a useful heuristic for testers to be humble (1, 2)  and to that I can now add that we should also be humbel.
Categories: Blogs

Make The Dirt Pay

Fri, 05/22/2015 - 15:14
Sometimes, perhaps when you're under time pressure and on a mission and in a part of the product you're not familiar with, you bump into issue after issue after issue trying to get to the thing you just have to get tested right now.

Maybe you looked at the doc, but really you only skimmed it because your boss was on your back, a pain in the neck, giving you a headache and tapping his wrist.

Maybe you noticed there was a warning in the log file, but it looked a bit internal and you dismissed it because some output was produced and the product manager is standing in the doorway editing her MS Project plan and tutting heavily.

Maybe you hopefully copied the conventions of other commands in the config file, or just plain guessed at the syntax for the bits you added, because the end of the sprint is tomorrow and the Scrum Master's definition of done is all about the done and less about the definition.

Maybe you asked somebody else, an expert, who had just the knowledge you need, but because you were in a hurry and they're also overloaded, you ended up with a shallow understanding and now their words of wisdom are just wisps of what-the? So you're reduced to feverishly trying random inputs hoping to defeat Probability and somehow magic up the answer the project wants even though by now even if you miraculously happened upon it you probably wouldn't be able to tell.

... Deep breath ...

Congratulations! You have arrived at a rare and privileged position: you are now your user.

Users generally don't know your product inside out. Frankly, most users wouldn't use your product at all if they could get what they need with less effort, hassle, expense or whatever resource is most important to them.

Many users don't pay attention to doc, or warning flags or the messages in the warnings that they don't understand or take time to learn how to do the stuff they don't need often. They just want the result. And they usually need it now, or earlier.

You are seeing the dirt that your users see, for the kinds of reasons your users see it. And that dirt is pay dirt. So don't just sigh and consign that nightmare to the brain bin when you get to the end of your task. Try to make the most of it by using your experiences to help to find ways to make the product better, and ensure that your product continues to be the one that gives your users their result in a timely fashion at the right cost for them.
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