Posted on January 6, 2009 in Podcasts, Uncategorized by adamNo Comments »

As usual, another podcast, another book being flogged. But that’s alright since this authors chosen are usually pretty interesting. This is the case in the interview with Dr. Gary Small who is doing research on people’s brain using FMRI.

I’m not sure why I’m picking up stuff about how the brain works recently, but here are my notes from this one.

  • When we are confronted with a new task, we don’t know how to do something so our brains try different techniques to do it. After you have done it your brain activity will be more uniform. And after proficiency is achieved, your brain will reduce activity which would imply efficiency.
  • Synapse Pruning – Early during the development neurons make many synapses, later the number declines, reaching the level of adulthood. The process is called activity dependent synapse elimination, when active synapses are reinforced and inactive ones are eliminated. Number of synapses can change even in the adult animals, making conditions for synaptic plasticity.Citizendium
  • In teenagers, complex reasoning, planning and empathy portions of the brain (frontal lobe) are undeveloped
  • milenisation – neurons fire faster; happens in older brains (Google completely failed this search)
  • The cost of technology? A lack of people interaction skills; conversation, non-verbal communication, etc.
  • Dr. Small did a presentation at Google
  • Continuous Partial Attention
  • Stress releases cortisol, cortisol shrinks the hippocampus, which lead to temporary short-term memory loss — which is why you make your testing checklists ahead of time
  • Taking breaks helps your brain work better. Better away from computer but if need be make the activity different than that you are breaking from.
  • Surgeons who play video games make less errors
Posted on January 3, 2009 in Podcasts, Uncategorized by adamNo Comments »

I listened to the Stack Overflow Podcast #35 on the train into work this morning. 3 things stuck out:

  1. Hobbies – Joel mentions an informal survey the did around the FogCreek office last summer (or the one before) and he mentions that all the developer’s hobbies were things like ‘Python’ and ‘Ruby’ and ‘Programming’. I’m not that surprised, knowing (by reading Joel’s stuff and listening to all the other episodes) how developer-centric the company and by knowing lots of developers. It seems to me that having programming as your hobby might actually be a warning sign. This was mentioned by MySQL’s then boss in Fortune magazine which I wrote up here. His quote was Be wary of people who have nothing in their life aside from work (no spouse, pet, parents, etc) to keep them from working up to and beyond the point of burnout or insanity. Also, some of the smartest developers I’ve worked with have been deeply involved in things as diverse as kite flying, skateboarding and biking. Yes, they all hack on code in their non-work hours, but ask them what their hobby is, the first thing out of their mouth is certainly not going to be ‘more code!’.
  2. Page Fault in Knowledge – I just really liked this term. They were talking about learning stuff just as you need it (the page fault) rather than learn a whole framework at the onset. I’ve been doing this for years: clueless, dangerous to myself, dangerous to others, moderately clueful, bring it on.
  3. Annoying things that you have to learn before you can successfully use an environment – The last thing that resonated was that every framework, every language, every <thing> has these little undocumented ‘features’ that you have to run into almost as a rite of passage. And it is a major time suck. With the lack of ‘formal’ or ‘recognized’ or even ‘understood’ and lets forget about ‘authoritative’ resources for newbie testers is one of the potential sweet spots for AST. Free BBST courses for memberships is already a step in the right direction I think.
Posted on January 3, 2009 in Podcasts by adamNo Comments »

Maria Guidice is the founder of Hot Studio which is a design studio which happens to do web content (vs. web shops that happen to do design; there is a difference. Trust me.). In this podcast she talks a bit about design (which making a pretty good pitch for her company). Most points are good to keep in mind when going over the prototypes of the site you will have to test and again when it gets to you.

  • The term ‘design’ is associated with looks / appearance
  • Looks don’t get you far (but do win you ‘design’ awards)
  • People go to websites
    • Asking a question
    • Attempting a task
  • Good design
    • Is beautiful
    • Appeals to our emotions
    • Appeals to our intellect
  • In some cases, the people and their stories are more important than the product
  • 30-40hrs of one-on-one time with a student can raise their marks a full grade
Posted on January 3, 2009 in Podcasts by adamNo Comments »

Here is a podcast by Jesse Schell who is on tour to promote his new book The Art of Game Design. Jesse is a professor at CMU’s Entertainment Technology Center (which was co-founded by Randy Pausch). It is a pretty good interview which didn’t sound like an infomercial.

  • Video games are the medium that subsumes all others
  • Meaningful interaction with game requires them to hear from the users
  • 40% artists / 40% engineers / 20% other > 100% of any category
  • Teach collaboration and interaction between the three groups
  • Any time you make a new game you have to also create some tools
  • There is a game for everyone, it is an issue getting the game to the person
  • good game design happens when you look at it from many perspectives
  • 100 different perspectives are discussed in the book
  • There is an accompanying set of cards for quick access to the lenses
Posted on December 30, 2008 in Podcasts by adamNo Comments »

Kathy Sierra spoke at this year’s Emerging Technologies conference about How to Kick Ass (which apparently starts with a great title). It was recorded. Here are the notes.

  • Where there are passion, there are people who kick ass
  • People are not passionate about things they suck at
  • People usually have to do something at her talks
  • Being better is better
  • Neurogenesis
  • Neuroplasticity
  • A common thread of people who are ‘world class’ at something is that they have the time to put in the effort at the something rather than natural talent. (Malcolm Gladwell say 10000 hours in Outliers.)
  • Rage to Master
  • The passionate people are the ones who spend the money (high-end lens, Pessoa saddles, etc.)
  • Do experts actually know more?
  • Chess masters remember a real board far more than an amateur. Show a nonsensical one and the advantage is eliminated.
  • It is not what the expert knows, it is what they do
  • Brain hacks
    • Exploit your telepathy superpowers
      • Mirror neurons (again)
      • allow us to run a simulation of another person’s brain inside our brain
      • watch people in action, not read a report
      • effectiveness of visualization increases as you increase your doing the real activity (dancer to dancer, ninja to ninja)
      • Watching people who suck; notso good
      • Better to visualize what you would see as you are doing, not you doing it from a 3rd party perspective
    • Reduce interference
    • Control Stress
      • People evolved / survived since they are great predators
      • Being surrounded by predators is stressful
      • Stress, anxiety, etc. will almost always make you suck
      • StressEraser
    • Get to know your brain
      • If you don’t get enough sleep, your performance will be like you were drunk
      • Real exercise helps you give your best performance from your brain (as compared to the popular Brain Age video games, etc.)
  • Intermittent variable rewards is the most powerful motivational technique
Posted on December 22, 2008 in Podcasts by adamNo Comments »

Another podcast which would not seem to be interesting to testers, but could be is Dell in Biotech.

  • Lab notebooks don’t scale – The big thing in the testing world seems to be carrying around moleskine notebooks. But any information in those are potentially lost when you leave it at the hotel, or is unaccessible if it is in your study in Toronto and you are in Seattle. And of course it is private. Private notes are certainly necessary, but some of the stuff really wants to be public. Wiki! Blog! Now!
  • Chronology is subjective – Most of us work on multiple things/projects/whatever at one time. Our thoughts and discoveries are chronological to us, but since they are spread out and interleaved between multiple items they are not chronological to that thing.
  • Hardware + Software + Services = Solution – I’m sure there is a testing linkage here somewhere, but I can’t find it right now. When they are talking about this they mention that customers don’t want finger pointing between vendors which seems like it might be close to what I am grasping for here.
  • CFR 21 Part 11 – Practically speaking, Part 11 requires drug makers, medical device manufacturers, biotech companies, biologics developers, and other FDA-regulated industries, with some specific exceptions, to implement controls, including audits, system validations, audit trails, electronic signatures, and documentation for software and systems involved in processing electronic data that are (a) required to be maintained by the FDA predicate rules or (b) used to demonstrate compliance to a predicate rule. (source: Wikipedia)
  • Scientist wants – This has been mentioned before, but to research scientist, they put in a sample in and they want information out. And they are not necessarily so concerned about what happens in the middle … they are more interested in the result of their … hypothesis
  • Virtualization – a nice description of what it is and why you need to care
  • Secret Handshake – If you don’t talk science, and research and data you won’t be able to work successfully with the scientific community
Posted on December 22, 2008 in Podcasts, Uncategorized by adamNo Comments »

Earlier this week I listened to an interview with Herbert Heedleman. You wouldn’t think it would be that interesting a topic, especially , but it is a pretty amazing story he weaves. Aside from bringing up the question of how people choose their careers, there was a few points relevant to testing.

  • Do good science (testing)
  • Purchasing opinions from ‘experts’ is Bad
  • Make sure things are defendable
  • And not vulnerable to attack
  • Go where the data takes you
  • If you believe in your work, you have to express it
Posted on September 22, 2008 in Podcasts by adamNo Comments »

Michael has explored the usefulness of emotions as oracles when testing. I tend to explain this with a physical component as well; if your eyebrows move, it is a bug. Furrowed in frustration is a sign that we need to explain something better or set their expectations in a different way. Oppositely, when they go up in surprise it can mean the same thing for different reasons.

In this podcast, Dr. Marco Iacoboni discusses ‘mirror neurons’ which allows us to empathize with people. The more neurons, the more empathetic. It so happens that one of the traits of people with autism is that they lack (or disfunction) of these neurons. (The first half of the podcast is the most interesting as it talks about the neurons and how they test for the presence of them. After that, it goes off about the election and a few other things which wasn’t nearly as interesting.)

My first thought when listening was whether we want people in the testing craft to be those with more, or less mirror neurons. On further thought though I think it wouldn’t make much difference as the interaction in a pure testing context is between tester and machine; so no empathy necessary. One place I can think it would be very important is if their role is to debrief testing sessions. In that case you want someone who can pick up the nuances of what people are actually telling you through their voice, body language and inflection.

Walking further out on the limb, I think a lack of empathy might also be valuable when logging bugs. If a developer is having a bad week, a highly empathetic tester might hold back on logging a bug as a result. A person with low empathy would log it anyways. If our primary objective as testers is to identify issues in the code then clearly the low empathy person is the one actually fulfilling the mission.

To link this back to the shaky ground I’m thinking on here.

There are a number of people who are successful in technology who have the minor form of autism called Asperger Syndrome. BitTorrent creator Bram Cohen comes to mind immediately, but I recall reading an article which posited that Bill Gates has a number of the traits of this as well. Does anyone know of someone who has been successful as a tester that has been (clinically) identified as having AS or a more severe case of Autism? Although I have been testing for over 10 years now I have only worked closely enough with about a dozen testers to be able to make any sort of guess about them (rightly or wrongly). In my very limited sample set, I don’t think I have.

Posted on September 12, 2008 in Podcasts by adamNo Comments »

Every couple months on A&E or Discovery they have a show on ‘Inside the Casino’ where they showcase the technology at use inside the Las Vegas casinos. Jeff Jonas is someone who helped build that some of the tech. Specifically Non Obvious Relationship Analysis (NORA) which seems to be able to be simplified to ‘really cool data mining’.

Take for instance the casino problem: 2000 cameras on the floor, 50 monitors in the security room, and 3 people watching. How do you know which monitor to watch? And more daunting is which camera to show on the monitor in the first place?

This data overload contributes to what he calls ‘enterprise amnesia’ – data a is in one part of the organization and data b is in a different part, but they are not linked in useful ways preventing the interesting questions from being answered? Take for instance the addresses of your dealers and those of banned players. The casinos have that information already, but not necessarily correlating it. He also cites a (admittedly small) percentage of employees in retail have been previously been charged with theft from their now employer. The information is there, but not in a useful way.

Both those examples could be done through traditional data mining techniques. Where his stuff goes is one (or two) steps further. In the systems he works with the data is only part of what is stored in the database. The queries are too. This means

  • The data finds the data
  • The relevance finds the user
  • Queries find other queries (which leads to collaboration between the people who are interested in the same thing as they are searching for it in the data set)

These techniques seem to me that they would be well employed in some of the central QA systems, especially bug trackers.

Most systems these days lets you save queries / filters so you can get information you care about, but that is only the first part of the solution. The next part is to have those queries run all the time and have the data reach the user. RSS is ideal for this and products like FogBugz incorporate this pushing of result sets to users. The final part of this is to have the system let you know who else was interested in this new bug as a result of their filters.

This might seem overkill for small, collocated companies where everyone generally knows what the others care about, but I could see this being massively useful in the HPs or Motorolas or Microsofts of the world.

You can listen to the full podcast (only about 20 minutes) at it’s IT Conversations page.

Posted on September 11, 2008 in Podcasts by adamNo Comments »

I blogged about Dan Ariely back in May (article here) after reading an article in the paper. I still haven’t read the book but have now listened to his Arming the Donkeys podcasts. Every week he has another one dealing with how and why people think what they do.

Here are the notes of things I found interesting.

July 2, 2008Jack Soll

  • Take what you are worst at and improve that
  • Small changes at the low end of things can make a big difference

August 5, 2008John Payne

  • Unconscious thinking is the better way to make decisions (see Blink)
  • Or is it?
  • It is certainly possible to do bad conscious thinking
  • This is often because of overthinking because you start to pay attention to irrelevant information in addition to the good stuff
  • Decisions of magnitude are good places to think about

August 11, 2008Alison Adcock

  • In order to learn something, be happy about it

September 2, 2008Stacy Wood

  • We forget the pain of having a car scratch
  • But we also also forget the joy of receiving flowers
  • What we actually remember is what we think we would feel like in those situations
  • Long wedding videos for instance are not necessarily a good thing for memories as they let you remember more about the day. Instead, just keep the happy photos as they reinforce the norm of having an enjoyable wedding day.

September 8, 2008Brian Elbel

  • If you present someone a list of 8 – 16 options, tehy are more likely to take the default or defer a decision to later.
  • By putting irrelevant options on the list, it forces people to think about the presented choices
  • The order of the choices counts too. If the thing people are comparing against is at the bottom of the list then people will consider the other options in more details.
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