Sketch it Out with Thelma and Louise

A Sketchnote of Thelma and Louise


Vacation is always such a great unraveling of the mind.  Usually, it takes me a few days, but I inevitably come to a place where I’ve sloughed off enough dead weight in terms of daily bullshit to really get down to it — that mossy dark place of, “so tell me how you really feel.”


When I get to this place, it reveals itself through some type of artistic expression.  I tend to go in phases with painting, drawing, writing or playing guitar.  This time it’s drawing, or more precisely, sketch noting.


The designers at Atlassian are completely and utterly to blame for this.  I follow some of them on twitter and whenever they go to a conference, they post the sketch notes they make.  If you have a look, you might also find some inspiration in them.


When I’ve gone to conferences or listened to brown bag talks, lately, I’ve been sketching things out.  In school, I chalked up a lot of success to the fact that I would take notes the old-fashioned way — I wrote them out.  There was something to do with the physicality of writing things as I listened that helped me process information, make connections and remember it all later.  Sketching has a similar result which I learned about when I watched this brief you tube from Jeannel King called Visual Notetaking: Why What You Draw is Good Enough!


Flashback to this past Winter: every Monday, I would sneak out of the office and drive up to San Francisco where I would take a fiction writing class.  We discussed a lot of fiction, but none of it was the stuff I read in high school.  In one class, we watched scenes from Pulp Fiction.  In another class, we talked about how the opening chapter of a book or the opening scene of a movie sets the stage and, if done well, is a microcosm of the plot.


One such movie that accomplishes this is a favorite of mine, Thelma and Louise.  In the opening scene, you see Louise waiting on tables. She gets the eat-shit-and-die look after she tells a table of young girls that they shouldn’t smoke.  She then goes to the back and takes a smoke break.  Thelma’s husband, makes his entrance by screaming, “Goddammit Thelma! Don’t holler like that!”  If you can’t tell, this movie is all about the voicelessness of women.  It is also one of the ultimate road trip movies of all time (up there with The Endless Summer)  If you haven’t seen it, I highly suggest checking it out.


Since my writing classes have ended, I’ve been reading the books and watching the movies that we talked about.  For some of them, I’ve even done some of my own literary analysis.  In the case of Thelma and Louise, I got out my sketchbook, and did some drawing.  Note that for some of these, I paused the movie to capture some extra detail.  This is, after all, vacation!


I’ve always liked this movie, but after paying some attention and tracing what happens along with what is said and the song lyrics that come out, I like it even more.  Learning how to speak up for yourself can be messy, and this film takes us through that mess for these two women.  For some reason, I’m reminded of the Weekend Testing session I hosted on close reading.  I guess this counts as close watching, and is certainly more fun than reading through java stack traces.


Excuse me while I go find some Wild Turkey.



Enhanced by Zemanta

Credo Work: A few of my ultimate nerds

Previously, I blogged about “The Ultimate Nerd.”  In this post, I will introduce you to some people who make my list of Ultimate Nerds.  The only rule I made for my list is that I’m not writing about people I know personally.  I’ve done this to force myself into doing some research and thinking through the reasons why each of these people have made the list.  There were people who I initially thought were no-brainers that came off and people I added much to my own surprise.  It will be interesting to come back to this list in a few years and see how things have changed.


Español: Bjork en Jalisco.
Español: Bjork en Jalisco. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Fans of Bjork won’t be surprised to see her on my list.  She left “has a good beat and you can dance to it” somewhere in the last millennium in favor of risking weird crazy experiments that don’t always work out but can be quite inspiring when they do.  Whenever I read about her projects, it’s not just about her singing or coming out with a new album, it’s about some new technology she’s exploring for making her music.  ReacTable?  Check!  Tesla Coil?  Check!  Swinging pendulums?  Check! Check!!  This is someone who sees technology and pushes it through music.  In my dream of dreams, she and Jack White have a love child.  But that’s another blog post.

Charles Joseph Minard
There are so many reasons why Minard makes my list of ultimate nerds.  Aside from being a pioneer in the field of data visualization, he’s a study in sticking with what you want to do even if it’s not something those around you care about or immediately understand.  He earned his living as a civil engineer and retired as a superintendent for a school of roads and bridges at a French university. It was only during his retirement that he started producing visualizations.

Charles Minard's 1869 chart showing the losses...

Beyond the fact that his visualization of Napoleon’s Russian campaign is ground breaking work, this is something he created at seventy-eight years old. There is so much focus in tech on completing your most important work in your twenties or maybe early thirties at a stretch, and it’s bullshit.

While Minard could have chosen any number of subjects for his visualizations, he chose to visualize the loss incurred by war.  Looking at his flow map of Napoleon’s Russian campaign the horrific losses of troops are immediately visible.  Minard has set an example of visualization as humanitarianism that I intend follow with the open data available on today’s web.


Eric Schmidt
In addition to being the former CEO of Google, Eric Schmidt wrote the forward to one of the few “business books” that managed to hold my attention, Artful Making.  You can see Chris McMahon’s blog about it here.

Recently, James Whittaker wrote a post about why he quit Google.  In the post he talks about the culture of innovation that Schmidt fostered at Google and it’s right in line with what I read in Artful Making.  In the testing world, Google has recently gone through an exodus of A-talent in testing.  It’s quite telling that a good number of the folks whose talks I most enjoyed at the last Google Test Automation Conference have quit the big G.

By all appearances, the company is undergoing a lot of change and seems to be embracing more of a top-down management.  Seeing this change and looking at the “leadership” I’ve experienced in my own career has shown me that it is much more challenging to embrace the path of trust and letting smart people do what they will than it is to throw on the black turtleneck and go all Steve Jobs on people.  Screaming may have worked for Steve Jobs, but those who decide to follow his leadership path should take a hard look in the mirror and ask themselves 1. Am I really that brilliant?  2. Am I living in the same context?  (Hint: the answer is NO.)

In my own work life, I often hear ideas that I myself would not reach for.  I work at saying, “let’s see if this will work out” instead of “you are freaking crazy.”

Eric Schmidt makes it onto my nerd-of-nerds list because he had the audacity to hire smart people, trust them and let them go.  Look at what they built. The ideas about software and software testing that came out of Google under Eric Schmidt’s leadership changed me and my career forever. I suspect I am not alone.  We need more leadership like this in software and software testing.


Fernanda Viégas and Martin Wattenberg
These two people are a dream team of data visualization.  Although they both do solo work, they work mostly as a team.  In fact, Google hired them as a team and they lead Google’s “Big Picture” visualization research group.  Although their work is always gorgeous, it’s also thought provoking and always has a solid basis in data.  Their first collaborative project, a visualization of Wikipedia, highlighted the controversy amongst some of the pages which, to be honest, I’d never stopped to consider before.

abortion on wikipedia

The artist statement on their website reveals how connected they are to what they do.  Although it’s worth reading the whole thing, (it’s not that long, actually), here are a few of my favorite bits:

“…our artwork complicates and subverts a tool that is largely used by the business and military elite. Unlike these traditional uses, we believe visualization to be an expressive medium that invites emotion.”

“Eventually we start to ask questions that can’t be answered by direct observation.”

For me, this team is an example of being open about collaborative work they do to move technology and mankind forward.


Ward Cunningham
There are a few reasons why Ward Cunningham makes my list of ultimate nerds.  He’s the father of the wiki which is a tool I consider mandatory to be effective for exploratory testing and can also be a framework for automated tests.  He helped lay the groundwork for design patterns.  He was also involved in the writing of the Agile Manifesto which is something I frequently reach for to remind myself about the human aspects of software.

Currently, Cunningham is a fellow in the “Code for a Better World” program at Nike where he oversees the Smallest Federated Wiki project.  This is a really neat project as the focus seems to be creating a community of wikis that can talk with each other.  It is also completely open and available on Github.  You an look back through some of the closed issues and see the constructive way in which Ward engages contributors to the project.

Part of the skill for maintaining longevity in a tech career seems to be the ability to simultaneously have a vision but also the ability to break that vision down into pieces small enough to implement.  Cunningham’s engagement with the idea of a wiki over time has shown me what this looks like.


So that’s my list of Ultimate Nerds.  In these people, I see what I wish for myself reflected back at me.  There are themes of collaboration, creativity, experimentation and longevity.  It’s easy to get burned out in this industry, but we are surrounded by fantastic mentors and role models if we choose to seek them out.

Last Fall, I ran a half-marathon.  Everything after mile 8 happened through a wall of exhaustion, but I stuck it out.  When I made it to the finish line, there were people lined up outside of the barricades on the street, cheering all of the finishers on.  I ran over to one side and got high-fives from anybody who would give me one, and ended the race feeling ecstatic.  When I feel burned out or when I just don’t know where I’m going with my tech career, it will be easy enough to picture these people lined up and ready to give me a high-five.  Now, there’s a visualization.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Field Trip: Observation, Technology, Art, Testing

Panoramic View of the Palace and Gardens of Versailles by John Vanderlyn

Google’s new museum view is fascinating.  It allows you to explore the works of many art museums all over the world from your computer.  Looking through the paintings, I saw some that I’ve seen at the museum or even painted for art class.  There was one particular painting that made me think about my favorite art history lesson.  I won’t reprise that exactly here, but I will give you a taste.  The art is different, but the spirit remains.

When looking at a painting, I typically consider:

Narrative:  What is happening?  Who is in the painting? What is the plot?

Light:  What is lit, Where is the light coming from, how much light is there in the painting? Does it set anyone or anything apart?

Shadows:  Are they particularly strong?  Do they inform the narrative of the painting? Is there something in the shadows?

Color:  How intense is the color?  Is it used to highlight anything in particular?

Brush strokes:  Are they thick and texturized, or minimal?

There is always more to consider, but these are some of the basics.

Here is Google’s view of the Garden at Versailles.

If you work at Microsoft, here is the photosynth version of the painting.

Be sure to give yourself a few minutes to explore the painting.  Zoom in and out, move around, explore!  Aside from the aspects I mentioned above, how does the medium and size strengthen or weaken the painting?

Now have a look at this photograph taken of Versailles and ask yourself the same questions.

The painting was made between 1818 and 1819.  The photograph was taken in 2006.  Clearly, the 2 artists had differing technologies at their disposal.   I love the character in both of them and could not help but notice that they were created for very different reasons.

While the photographer has left us a note on Flickr, the story of the painting is told in the photosynth.  How do you think each one plays to its strengths and where do you think they are weaker?  What information do you get from the painting that the photograph does not show you and vice-versa.  How does the fact that we are now looking at both of these through a computer screen change the effectiveness of their intended medium.  A few years ago, the painting would have been out of luck, but both Google and Photosynth create new methods of looking at the painting that gives us a different kind of connection to what we see in front of us.

Because I’m a software tester, I can’t help but think about the technique of cross-checking which I have used time and time again and how that plays out in comparing these 2 works.  How can you tell that the painting is an accurate representation of Versaille?  Why did the photographer layer the 2 photographs the way he did?

Can you think of the last time you had result “a” and used a different means to come up with the same answer?  I can and it looked nothing like Versailles ;)

What is quality? What is art? Part deux

I’m so appreciative of the discussion that developed from my previous post. I could see that people commenting were really digging deep, so I decided to address some of what was said in this follow-up post.

Here are some of the comments about the definition of quality:

Michael Bolton shared his perspective on Jerry Weinberg’s definition: “To be clear, Jerry’s insight is that quality is not an attribute of something, but a relationship between the person and the thing. This is expressed in his famous definition, ‘quality is value to some person(s).’ ”

Rikard Edgren’s definition: “Quality is more like “good art” than “art”, but anyway: I can tell what “quality to me” is when I see it. I can tell what “quality to others” is when I see it, if I know a lot about the intended usage and users.” Rikard also wrote a post where he clarifies his position a bit.

Andrew Prentice wrote about what he feels is missing from Weinberg’s definition: “I like Weinberg’s definition of quality, but I’m not convinced that it is sufficient for a general definition of quality. Off the top of my head I can think of two concepts that I suspect are important to quality that it doesn’t seem to address: perfection and fulfillment of purpose.”

The definition of quality that I learned is from Stephen Kan’s book, Metrics and Models of Software Quality Engineering. Interesting is that Kan shows a hearty and active disdain for what he says is the “popular” definition of quality. “A popular view of quality,” he writes, “is that it is an intangible trait—it can be discussed, felt, and judged, but cannot be weighed or measured. To many people, quality is similar to what a federal judge once commented about obscenity: ‘I know it when I see it.’ This is sounding familiar, no? Here is where the pretension begins to flow: “This view is in vivid contrast to the professional view held in the discipline of quality engineering that quality can, and should, be operationally defined, measured, monitored, managed, and improved.’ ” Easy, tiger. We’ll look at this again later.

Jean-Leon Gerome’s painting of Pygmalion and Galatea brings this discussion to mind. This is a link to themyth of Pygmalion and Galatea.

I’ve seen this painting in person, at the Met.  Interesting to note is that the artist was painting himself as Pygmalion in this painting. (and I like listening to “Fantasy” by the Xx while I look at this.)

The relationship in this painting is not limited to the one between Pygmalion and Galatea, the viewer is drawn into the relationship as well and the artist, himself is also participating. In this painting, Pygmalion has been completely drawn in by his own creation. The artist was so drawn in by the story that he painted himself into it. I was and am still so drawn in by the painting that it is simply painful for me to tear my eyes away from it. It slays me. When I see it, I feel the painting. I guess you could say that emotion is an attribute of this painting, but in this case, I think it’s more. In this case, the emotion is the painting. Why else does the painting exist? Would this painting work at all if the chemistry were missing? I don’t think it would. What Gerome has accomplished here is the wielding of every technique at his disposal to produce a painting with emotion as raw, basic and tantalizing as the finest sashimi.

But there is more to this relationship than just the fact that Gerome has painted himself as Pygmalion. Let’s examine the relationships that exist in this painting and what they tell us. Starting with just the painting, itself, we have the man and the woman locked in their embrace. They are surrounded with many objects. (I encourage all readers to click through to the Met’s web site. Looking at their web-site, if you double click on the painting, you can move around and zoom in and out to get a closer, more focused look.) What do you notice about all of the objects in the room? I’ve no doubt that some of you are wondering if these objects take away from the focus in the painting. If that were the case, if the painting consisted of only the man and the woman, how would we know that the man was an artist? So why do we need these particular objects? The painting could be restricted to just the hammer and chisel so what’s with all the stuff? This is where our relationship with the painting deepens should we choose to follow the breadcrumbs…

An overview of Gerome’s life, clarifies his choices. As a young artist, he spent a year in Rome which he felt was one of the happiest years of his life. At the time that Pygmalion and Galatea was painted, Gerome was grieving over the deaths of several relatives and friends. By surrounding himself with artifacts from his youth, the artist is traveling back in time to a younger, more “Roman”-tic time in his life. However depressed he may have been when he painted this, Gerome was also experiencing an artistic breakthrough in his sculpting career. Notice the breakthrough in the painting? Now that you know a bit more history, how do you feel about the painting? Does it change your perspective? This has made the painting very introspective for me. The emotion that flows from this depiction of romantic love is one of vitality and power. Perhaps Gerome is evoking these feelings as a way of tapping into his own creative powers. I remember thinking to myself when I first saw this painting at the Met, before I knew anything at all about it, “She is rescuing him.”

To describe quality as a relationship gives it a larger meaning and captures something neglected and dismissed by the literature of the “software crisis” era e.g. books such as Stephen Kan’s. Is quality as a relationship mutally exclusive to quality being an attribute of software? I don’t agree with describing quality as just an attribute. To say that quality is an attribute de-emphasizes the holistic approach to quality I try to take and for which I’m assuming Michael, Jerry Weinberg (going by his definition here only), agile, context, et. al are striving. (Full disclosure: I haven’t read any of Jerry Weinberg’s books. That does NOT mean they are not on my list. I just got out of school and the only thing I’m reading lately is visa paperwork so give me a break here.)

The software we test has its creators and has an audience of users as well. Just as Gerome had his own relationship with this painting, developers know what they want to see which leads to the building of their own relationship with the software they make. How does this affect the relationship between the software and its audience

How does value fit into this? I value the painting because of how it makes me feel when I look at it. After the examination I did, I now understand why I value the painting. As someone who is constantly seeking artistic inspiration, I am happy to go where Gerome and his muse take me. What does this say for value in software? Does the relationship between an audience of users and software create value for the audience members whether they are paying guests or not? The more I dig into this definition, the more I like it because it allows for gatecrashers, those who we did not think would be using our software, but who may find it so invaluable, they become our software’s greatest fans.

I’m going to marinate on this while I think about the 2nd part of Andrew’s comment, namely, that Mr. Weinberg’s definition of quality does not address perfection and fulfillment of purpose. After all, Kan’s two definitions of quality of “fitness for use” and “conformance to requirements” are fairly widely accepted in software.

What are you thinking? Is there something missing from Jerry Weinberg’s definition? How does measurement fit into what I’ve been writing about if it fits at all?

I leave you to think about this and the painting above. If you haven’t already, take a few minutes to click through and take a good, honest, langorous look. Put down the twitter, the kid, the spreadsheet, the reality tv show. Take some deep breaths and give yourself a few moments alone with Pygmalion and Galatea.

to be continued…

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]