Friday, April 20, 2007

CaseBook, "Simple Ships", The Twilight Sad

CaseBook is an open-source quality assurance tool developed for my current client to organize and generate testing documents. It is similar in concept, though not in scope, to DocBook, consisting of a data-schema or three and an assortment of xsl transforms. When new application features are developed, a high level map is built in the CaseBook document, detailing pages and states, controls on the page and assertions about the page. This document is then transformed to generate acceptance, integration and regression documents. Once the application map has been created, further assertions can be skimmed out of our bug-tracking database (Bugzilla), using its Atom format reports.

For our latest development sprint, I was able to build a testplan containing some sixty testcases for a manual tester in a couple of hours. Refactoring this data is not difficult since all reports are generated by transforms. Adding further assertions is also quite simple.
Last Summer, at Home I had become the Invisible Boy - okay, so the title of this track from the debut release from Glasgow's Twilight Sad may be a little long... but, wow, if you like folky shoegazey music that grabs you by the guts and demands your attention, don't miss this one. "Last Summer" opens with a pounding percussive line reminiscent of Galaxie 500's cover of "Don't let your youth go to waste", building to an emotional release at the end, with vocals that could only come from Glasgow. I want to raise my children in that fair town, just so they can speak with that accent.

Last Summer, At Home....
The Twilight Sad - myspace

CaseBook is available at SourceForge.

During one of my early experiences as a developer, I worked in a development group that worked very hard to follow the keep it simple rapid development principle of "Simple Ships." Ideally, new modules are developed in short sprints, architectures don't become grandiose, and life is good. But we found ourselves adopting another adage: "Stupid Ships," and only half in jest. We discovered very often, throwaway ideas which began as a joke would prove to be more shippable than more traditional solutions. I have given a lot of thought to this as the years have passed: why is it that successful development often begins in jest?

The funny textual intrusions for record reviews and such also began as a joke, a holdover from my MA thesis, stolen quite shameslessly from David Foster Wallace's footnotes for Infinite Jest.

Even though we are told that creativity and innovation are absolutely essential to survival in today's technology market, the fact remains that ideas which are too far outside the box are shot down without consideration of merit due to time constraints. An idea promoted in jest may slip under the radar and plant a seed. I have definitely seen this happen on several occasions. What begins as an employee's throwaway takes on a new life when it is suddenly assumed by management. Often this happens when a new feature is given a silly name, for instance. In my experience, people like silly names, because it personalizes the otherwise obscure process of software development.
In reality, I was having a very hard time focussing on the task at hand, and since various other ideas kept interrupting the process of writing, I decided they should also interrupt the process of reading.

The jest, in this case, may create a safer forum for discussion, and one which has enough distance from the anticipated or perceived problem that a solution may be found that challenges the initial premises of the problem, which is often enough to create an innovative solution. "Wouldn't it be funny if instead..." is a great way to refactor a problem so that it becomes solvable.
This was also supposed to suggest a shuttle weaving from one side of the page to the other, but that is another story.

Also, if you are one of those developer people who experiences a knee-jerk reaction when your boss or client tasks you by executive fiat - "this is how it is going to be" - then the phrase "Stupid Ships" takes on a different shade of meaning: "Well, maybe I think this is stupid, and maybe I don't, but if you want it, and you will support it, and you will support me in developing it, then, well, we can ship it."

I believe a fundamental component in the shift from apprentice developer to journeyman, and then master comes from recognizing these "jests of brilliance" for what they are, as we encounter them, and instead of presenting them as throwaways, presenting them as statements that we are fully prepared to stand behind and back up.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

It's a Spider... Man! The friendly neighborhood internet:

Is the web becoming more collaborative? More semantic? metaphoric? I would expect in the coming days, all these things come to pass. And most people will fail to notice. The original hypertext transfer protocol was groundbreaking because it filled a niche, and did so in a remarkable fashion. For early adopters, that was enough, and out of the aether, or arpa, the web was born; but the sea-change occurred when the web ceased to be primarily textual, and became visual.

Currently loving on:

Mason Proper - Rest Up
(live in the WOXY lounge)

I still can't get enough Mason Proper, and their latest appearance in the WOXY lounge, their second, sounded great. I have Rachael from Underrated to thank for tipping me off to Mason Proper, so props!

I am lead to believe that the next global shift in the web will be visual also, when 3d replaces 2d. Not sure if Second Life fills the bill. I could be wrong, though, web 2.0 represents a decentering of the web object, shifting focus to the audience, and though web 2.0 applications do tend to share a visual look (well, rounded corners, obv, and tableless design), this is mostly stylistic, an attempt to "look 2.0".

My personal take is that the emerging web is still primarily solipsistic and protective, but I see the self-sustaining nature of WikiPedia becoming more pervasive as online identities become less anonymous.

Peter Parker was a reporter. Perhaps in the 21st C, he'd be a blogger. As his secret identity Spiderman, he maintains law and order in his friendly neighborhood, even though sometimes he has a hard time explaining how Peter Parker happened to be on the scene when he shows the photographs to J. Jonah Jameson later.

For the most part, the web is a friendly neighborhood, and Spiderman has a lot of help. I've seen plenty of flame-wars end with a troll banned or otherwise ejected, and the neighborhood returns to order. And people stand up for each other on the web, and for the things they believe in, against the tyrannies of homophobia, misogyny, civil liberties or any other unacceptable behavior. And I am proud of these people.

I think there is a tipping point in one's life when one gains a certain notoriety for one thing, and then applies that notoriety to reaching a wider audience.

And therein lies something I find problematic: Spiderman is notorious, Peter Parker is not. But Spiderman is the facade. We live in a time when anyone with a PC and an ISP can create a web presence online (myspace page etc), and the only reason many choose to remain anonymous is because that is the norm. A forum could decide that it would only allow posts from members who have created a web presence (an online location to associate with this person if they act in a destructive fashion; a personal namespace) - at this point, true dialog begins to emerge from identification.

Of course, this ability exists already, but is not a norm, and this sort of dialog runs against the extreme virtualization of Second Life and its ilk. Wikipedia and Digg are other examples of applications which successfully blend anonymity and collaboration.

I am increasingly enjoying Danah Boyd's Apophenia Blog. At the top of her blog roll is a little notice:

Welcome! If you're new, please check out Best-Of Apophenia. A feed for this blog is here.

This is fantastic! The Best-of link is a great idea! I can't count the number of times I've come across a weblog, liked what the person has to say, but been unable to really get a bead on where they're coming from, ideals etc. Putting a Best-of link right up front tells new and familiar visitors alike what you consider to be the writing that has best conveyed What you are trying to say. The words you choose are like the clothes you wear when you travel around the web-o-sphere - these are your red and blue spandex, so why not make them noticeable?