Exploration Through Example

Example-driven development, Agile testing, context-driven testing, Agile programming, Ruby, and other things of interest to Brian Marick
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Sun, 14 May 2006

Gradual descent

I used to teach the occasional class at the University of Illinois. One summer, I taught "CS397BEM: Being Wrong." The idea of the class was that any solution to a problem brings its own problems. The first example I gave in the class was the body's immune system. It's a solution to a problem: bacteria that want to eat us. So the body has neutrophils that eat the bacteria. But there's a problem: neutrophils exude antimicrobial crud. When they swarm to a site of infection as part of inflamation, the crud damages the body. The solution to that problem is to make the neutrophils short-lived. Once the bacteria are eaten, no more neutrophils are attracted and the existing ones die off before too much damage is done. (My resident expert says this explanation is "simplistic, but OK.")

I thought this class was important because we too often solve the problem in front of us, then stop. We don't try, even casually, to predict the accompanying problems. More importantly, we don't attend to the problems when they surface, so we let the inflammation get worse for too long.

Here's a problem I've noticed but ignored: Big Visible Charts lose their effectiveness over time. They cease providing the same pressure to improve or maintain. Part of it is that they become invisible; the eye ignores what it's seen a zillion times before. Another part, I think, is that people are bad at maintaining a level pace. We randomly jitter, sometimes in the worse direction, sometimes in the better. It's always easier to stay worse than to get better, so eventually one jog worseward isn't corrected with a jog betterward. Now you're at a worse level, and the fact that you've tolerated that makes tolerating the next jog worseward easier.

That's by way of explaining why my weight kept creeping up until the scale said 180.2 pounds. It's not just a disgusting lack of willpower: it's a universal law!

At some point in the decline, you need to stop, take serious stock of things, remind yourself of what you're trying to accomplish, adjust yourself, and return to the task with renewed energy. That's what I've done. It's back to the 2 pounds lighter per week regime, which I think is sustainable down below my previous low. Then the trick will be not to let the supposedly steady state get quite so out of hand next time.

The Big Visible Blog did help me take stock, especially once I crossed a multiple-of-ten threshold. Because other people were watching, I eventually couldn't stomach showing the trend without explanation. But an explanation would be too lame unless it were part of a description of a correction. Hence this post.

(All this might be sophistry, though. The fact is that it's been a truly lousy two months in most all of the spheres I care about—my family, my wife's job, the exhibited character of my nation, and parts of my work life. While Clif Builder Bars are not the junkiest of food, I overdo them as comfort food in black times.)

## Posted at 11:56 in category /misc [permalink] [top]

About Brian Marick
I consult mainly on Agile software development, with a special focus on how testing fits in.

Contact me here: marick@exampler.com.




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Working your way out of the automated GUI testing tarpit
  1. Three ways of writing the same test
  2. A test should deduce its setup path
  3. Convert the suite one failure at a time
  4. You should be able to get to any page in one step
  5. Extract fast tests about single pages
  6. Link checking without clicking on links
  7. Workflow tests remain GUI tests
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