Friday, November 27, 2009

Book Review: Beautiful Testing

Beautiful Testing: Leading Professionals Reveal How They Improve Software, by Adam Goucher and Tim Reilly. Pub by O’Reilly, ISBN 0596159811.

This is a great book for testers, leads, and managers to read to get a better picture of where your testing process can bring value to your work. A few sections of this book didn’t get me much value, but the vast majority of the book left me frantically scratching notes and folding corners of pages over. I read the book over a weekend and came away with a large number of major additions to my QA roadmap I use at work.

Kamran Khan’s chapter on fuzz testing reinforced my ideas that choking your system with invalid parameters and input data is a tremendous way to shore up that system’s stability. I also really enjoyed Lisa Crispin’s and Alan Page’s separate chapters, both of which emphasized value-driven, sensible approaches to test automation.

If you want an amazing story around how testing can directly impact the lives of those around you, read Karen Johnson’s chapter “Software in Use.” Johnson ties a visit to an Intensive Care Unit to work she’d done on equipment in that ICU – it’s rare anyone sees that practical a link to work we do in this industry.

Other highly worthwhile chapters include the piece on Python’s development process, the overview on TDD, Mozilla’s regression testing philosophy, and others. The Python chapter, in particular, is a tremendous testament to how a rigorous testing philosophy can guarantee very solid releases even with a broad, distributed team of varying skills.

As my examples above point out, there’s a great amount of broad-stroke value in the book; however, a wealth of smaller, critical points abound in various chapters as well. Some weren’t phrased exactly like this, but I’ve taken away these other concept as well:

  • Track the source of your bugs (test plans, exploratory, developer, etc.) and pay special attention to bugs found by customers. These “escapees” point to areas to shore up in your test plan.
  • Mindmaps are a great way to brainstorm out your test plan or test areas.
  • Use small tools like fuzzers to help create your baseline input data.
  • 100% passing rates for your automated tests isn’t reasonable. Investigating 100% of your failing tests to determine whether the specific failure matters is reasonable. (I already firmly believed this, but it was nice to see in print!)
  • Using image comparison to check formatting.

This is one of the better books I’ve read this year, and it’s absolutely worth adding to your shelf.

Several Book Reviews

97 Things Every Project Manager Should Know by Barbee Davis. Published by O’Reilly. ISBN 0596804164.

This is a terrific collection of small articles on many aspects of project management and successful team leadership. There are a large number of authors involved in this work, so the articles’ voices vary, but each one is very well written and clear.

I loved Neal Ford’s and James Graham’s articles on productivity and finding good individuals, and William Mills’ Meetings Don’t Write Code certainly fit right in with my core philosophy.

The book’s very easy to read and has a lot of valuable insight. Highly recommended!

Elements of Programming by Alexander Stepanov and Paul McJones. Pub by Addison Wesley. ISBN 032163537X.

Serious approaches to algorithms for the hardcore computer science geek. Heavy on math, low on applicability for me and my line of work – but I’m sure lots of folks will find it very useful. Lots of concise, in-depth discussion of foundational knowledge, and plenty of exercises to help evolve your skills.

The tone’s exceedingly dry and academic, and I got very tired of the authors repeated assertions that you need to be using a “real programming language such as C++.” Guess all the value-providing projects I’ve helped roll out in Perl, Java, C#, and other languages haven’t counted.

That said, this is a wonderful book for those interested in raising their skills in hardcore algorithms.

The CSS Anthology, 3rd ed by Rachel Andrew. Pub by Sitepoint, ISBN 0980576806

It’s Sitepoint, it’s CSS, it’s pure goodness in full color. Another amazing book from Sitepoint that is clear, concise, example-driven, and highly useful. I love how many of the topics are written in a before/after or progressive style. It’s a great mix between a cookbook and tutorial approach.

There’s enough content here to make this book useful to CSS novices or advanced folks.

The Manga Guide to Calculus, Hiroyuki Kojima, et. al. Pub by No Starch Press, ISBN 1593271948.

The Manga Guide to Molecular Biology, by Takemura Masaharu, et. al Pub by No Starch Press, ISBN 1593272022.

Both these books follow the same great approach as the Manga Guide to Physics I reviewed some time ago: Break a complex idea down in to small pieces, clearly explain it with practical examples, and use the fun Manga comic style to wrap the entire concept in a great story.

I never took calculus in high school or college, yet I was able to get through the Guide and come out at the end with a pretty fair understanding of it. Moreover, I actually enjoyed the learning journey!

My nine year-old daughter loves these books and always reads through them after I’m done. She’s not coming away from the books with great knowledge of the concepts, but she’s finding them interesting, fun, and is less intimidated with the subjects. I think that’s a big win because these guides are laying some good ground work for her to come back to later.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Displaying the Document Properties Toolbar in Office Documents

The Document Property bar in Office 2007 is handy, particularly if you’re working with SharePoint document libraries and have added some custom columns. Those show up as nifty properties in your document, like so:

Unfortunately, if you close the property bar it’s not very intuitive on how to get it open again. Use Office | Prepare | Document Properties to get it back. Yeah, that Properties command is under “Prepare.” UI Fail, but there you have it.

(Posted because I continually forget how to get the properties bar back.)

Monday, November 16, 2009

Automate Activation/Deactivation of SharePoint Features

Click, wait, click, click, wait, click, wait, wait, click, wait, … Life as someone working with SharePoint development when you’re trying to update features you’re working on or testing. It sucks.

Here’s a little Watir on Ruby script to ease your pain. You can launch this from the command line with a “-a” or “-d” arg to activate or deactivate. Edit the @siteroot and @*Features variables to match your needs.

This uses some XPath-fu to find the Activate or Deactivate button for the feature named in the two *Features variables.

No, it’s not pretty. Yes, there are <x> different more betterer ways it could be done. It skinned the cat I needed skinned and I’m happy.

UPDATED: Refactored it a bit.

require 'watir'
require 'optparse'

@siteroot = "http://w2k3rs/"
@collectionFeatures = [ "Telligent Enterprise Menu Items",
            "Telligent Enterprise WebParts"]
@siteFeatures = ["SharePoint Integration for Telligent Enterprise",
            "Telligent Enterprise Search Replacement for WSS v3" ]

$options = {}

opts = 
opts.banner = "Usage: SpiFeatures [$options]"
$options[:activate] = false
opts.on( "-a", "--activate", "Activate SharePoint Integration" ) do
    $options[:activate] = true
$options[:deactivate] = false
opts.on( "-d", "--deactivate", "Deactivate SharePoint Integration" ) do
    $options[:deactivate] = true

$action = "Activate" if $options[:activate]
$action = "Deactivate" if $options[:deactivate]

$browser = Watir::Browser.start @siteroot + "/_layouts/ManageFeatures.aspx?Scope=Site"
$browser.speed = :fast

def toggle_feature(feature)
        "//table[@class='ms-propertysheet']//table//table//tr[td[h3[contains(.,'" + 
        feature +
        "')]]]/../../../..//input[@value='" + 
        $action + "']").click
    if $options[:deactivate] then 
        $, "Deactivate this feature").click 

@collectionFeatures.each do |@feature|

$browser.goto(@siteroot + "/_layouts/ManageFeatures.aspx")

@siteFeatures.each do |@feature|


Monday, November 02, 2009

CodeMash 2010 Registration Open!

Registration for CodeMash 2010 is open!

Of course I’m biased, but I think the sessions we’ve got this year are better than ever, and the list of PreCompiler sessions is simply insane.

Keynoters for this year’s conference are Mary Poppendieck, Hank Janssen, and one more amazing guy we’ll be announcing shortly.

Early bird pricing is $175, good through 30 November after which it jumps to $220. The PreCompiler is $75. The Kalahari is offering its usual amazing value prices of $88 for a “Hut” room. This means you can stay three nights, hit the PreCompiler and the full conference, all for less than $600. I don’t think you can find any better value for a conference; certainly not any national level conference!

Go to CodeMash. Just do it.

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