Category Archives: Reviews

Listen up and read

In the technology adoption lifecycle, I usually fall somewhere in between the early adopters and early majority. Every now and then though, I find myself among the last of the laggards. Case in point: audiobooks. I’ve discovered their usefulness just a couple of decades after mostly everyone else. Turns out, audiobooks have proved themselves a highly efficient way of getting through the pile of shame that is my ever increasing “to read”-list.

And grown it has… since the birth of my first child little over three and a half years ago I’ve not read a single book. Not even one. I started reading a few, but I soon ran low on time, and after collecting dust for a couple of weeks, it became apparent over and over again that I would probably have to start over if I wanted to pick them up again. After becoming a father of two, time has become an even more precious commodity.

That’s why this thing with listening to books excites me, and why I want to tell more people about it (even though I’m probably among the last people to the party). I’m sure I’m not the only one out there who struggles to find the time to sit down and do some serious reading.

I got started after listening to one of my favorite podcasts: Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History. He (and many other podcasters) is sponsored by Audible.com, and since I didn’t know anything about audiobooks, and because I could support Dan by signing up through his website, that seemed like as good a place as any to try things out at. I downloaded the Android Audible app, created an account, and found a few books to start building my library.

In one and a half years I’ve now gotten through 37 books, clocking in at roughly 300 hours or the equivalent of somewhere around 11250 pages. That’s more than zero. Some would say a lot more than zero. (I would.)

Since I can “read” these while doing other monotonous things (mowing the lawn, cooking, doing dishes…), I get plenty more opportunities to read compared to if I would be forced to sit down in a quiet space in order to get some book time. This in turn has afforded me the opportunity to go beyond books that I would normally read and dive into a few classic books that I would otherwise never find the time for, like the Thomas Paine books (“Rights of Man”, “Common Sense” and “The Age of Reason”) which I’ve been eyeing for quite some time, or John Stuart Mill’s excellent text “On Liberty” as well things from the opposite end of the liberty/humanist spectrum, e.g. what seemed to be a pretty good translation of “Mein Kampf” which was both fascinating and frightening. I’ve also fulfilled a promise to my wife to read “Brain Rules for Baby” by John Medina, which turned out to be quite insightful.

I also very much enjoyed the much more political and autobiographical books by Maajid Nawaz and the extraordinary Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and of course the insightful books by one of my personal heroes, Sam Harris, who seems to move with ease between a wide range of topics like religion, morality, politics and secular spirituality. Very much looking forward to his upcoming book on artificial intelligence.

For those of you who are working in software testing and/or are entrepreneurs, I especially recommend the fairly short books by Seth Godin in the list below, as well as “The Challenger Sale”, “Your Brain at Work”, “The Power of Habit” and also of course the Malcom Gladwell books. I found I could both digest and retain them all fairly well in this format.

My current audiobook library of books I’ve read:

A. C. Grayling The Good Book: A Humanist Bible
A. Hitler, M. Ford (translator) Mein Kampf: The Ford Translation
Alan Dean Foster Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Ayaan Hirsi Ali Heretic
Benedict de Spinoza Ethics
Brendon Burchard The Charge
Charles Duhigg The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business
Christopher Hitchens Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man
Dan Ariely Predictably Irrational
Daniel H. Pink To Sell Is Human
David Rock Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long
H. Dreyfus,
S.D Kelly
All Things Shining
Jean-Jacques Rousseau On the Social Contract
John E. Smith Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel
John Medina Brain Rules (Updated and Expanded)
John Medina Brain Rules for Baby (Updated and Expanded)
John Stuart Mill On Liberty
Jonah Berger Invisible Influence
Maajid Nawaz Radical
Malcolm Gladwell Blink
Malcolm Gladwell The Tipping Point
M. Dixon,
B. Adamson
The Challenger Sale
Nicholas Capaldi David Hume
Rene Descartes Meditations on First Philosophy
Richard Dawkins The Selfish Gene
Sam Harris Waking Up
Sam Harris Lying
Sam Harris The Moral Landscape
Sam Harris, Maajid Nawaz Islam and the Future of Tolerance
Seth Godin Free Prize Inside!
Seth Godin The Icarus Deception
Seth Godin Survival Is Not Enough
Seth Godin Purple Cow
Steven Pinker The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined
Thomas Paine Rights of Man
Thomas Paine Common Sense
Thomas Paine The Age of Reason

The only drawback to my “method” is that there aren’t many tech books in an audio format. At least not that I’ve been able to find. But hey, no system is perfect, but some are useful. I’ll probably keep chipping away at my now somewhat shorter pile in this way for a good while longer.

What’s your favorite audiobook? I’d love to hear your recommendations.

Thinking Visually

Today I finally got around to watching Alan Richardson’s STARonline talk “Thinking Visually In Software Testing” that has recently been published on YouTube for easy access (also embedded at the bottom of this post).

I’m always interested in learning new ways of visualizing information and communicate thoughts in effective ways and so Thinking Visually is a topic that’s right up my alley. Alan’s talk is well worth a watch/listen and if you don’t believe me, I took some quick notes while watching it to help you decide if it’s worth your time or not. (Hint: It is.)

Described in one sentence, the talk is about using models and diagrams to aid test planning and communication of the testing effort. It covers an explanation of what Alan means by “thinking visually” but it also describes the opposite of thinking visually and also contains a very amusing part with examples of how to best “trap” your thinking and how to best document your trapped thinking so that your readers will gain no value from reading your documentation. Hilarious. Also, as you listen to Alan’s examples of trapped thinking being presented in your average test plan or report, you will probably realize that you see this kind of documentation quite often.

I do recommend that you listen from the beginning of the talk, but if you want to hear what I’m talking right away, you can skip ahead to about 16:48 for a good laugh. That is, until you also realize that some of this stuff is something you yourself have been doing or maybe are still doing quite often. At least that’s what I realized. Alan suggests that we go through your own documents and read it with a sense of humor, which will help us spot these things more easily, and maybe also help us stop doing them.

But… going back to the beginning (how’s that for structure), one thing that Alan said early on was something that got me thinking about how I approach documentation and debriefings:

“I would rather see your thinking, than see what you think your thinking should look like.”

In other words, the way you are presenting your test strategy, test ideas or test results, should demonstrate that you’re putting more effort into the thought process than you are into the documentation process. So, focus on showing that you are thinking and that you are thinking about the testing task at hand, rather than presenting something that suggests you were focused on thinking: “How can I fill in this template”?

“If you don’t think in the first place. If you don’t have a model about what you’re going to do, your communication will be unclear, and you won’t convince, regardless of how well you fill in the template.”

I personally like to see more test plans focus on showing me that the tester is thinking, rather than focusing on exactly what they are thinking. Why? Well, test plans are usually born before testing starts, at a time when we know the least we’ll ever know about the thing we’re actually going to test. So if I’m one of your stakeholders and you show me a plan that tells me exactly what you’re going to do and that you have it all figured out… then the only thing I know for sure is what your testing will not be like, because no test plan fully escapes first contact with the product unscathed.

But, if you can show me that you are thinking actively, from many different angles, and that your thinking is open to a changing context, then I will feel more assured that you will do a good job once you get your hands on the product. I don’t want testers who can follow directions. I want testers who can think for themselves.

Ok, back to the presentation. Alan shares a few of his principles for how to approach documentation (somewhat paraphrased):

  • How little can you get away with?
  • Make the templates work for you, not the other way around
  • Put important information first. Make what’s important obvious
  • Summarize for the reader
  • Meet the reader’s needs

I’m running a bit long with this post, but it turns out that this was a very quotable talk, so I’ll leave you with a few “sound bites” that I took away from listening to this talk, that might trigger you to go and watch the whole 25 minutes or so of it yourself.

I learned that communication is not what I give, it’s what people take from what I present. So I have to help them take it in the way that I want […] to focus on what’s important.
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When you create a mind map your default relationship is a parent/child decomposition, but there are other relationships in your model and you may need different visual models to draw that out.
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Different tools support different styles of thinking. You get different value when you model your thought process in different tools.
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Don’t think that you can get away without thinking.