You pick the right tool


As you can see, it is sometimes crucial to select a right tool. Even to stick to it, regardless on how awkward and painful it might feel. I just had to open with this scene, it is anyhow from one of my all time favorite movies. The book it is based on, is definitely one of my top 5:s.

We’ve all been there. It’s late night, we’re out in the park, having fun and all we have left is bottle of wine. And of course the corkscrew is nowhere to be found. So you start using your imagination. You might have a normal screw and a screwdriver, maybe a pair of tongs, too, you might be carrying a multi-tool, for what I know. Or not. The cork stays in the bottle.

You go through your pockets again, ask your friends, someone says that all he’g got is a pen, other one offers you a rock.

You see where I’m going here? A pen is mightier than a rock? Well, at least now it is.

Now you could open the bottle by smashing the head to a rock. Or smashing the rock to the head of the bottle. That might work, too. In the other hand, there’s always risks of getting bottle broken so, that the glass gets inside the bottle. Besides, that will create a mess in the grass and I a devoted dog owner and animal lover hate when people break bottles or other glass and leave the stuff there. Besides, people can get hurt too, for real.

So that leaves you the pen, right. You could write a letter – I know, it’s old school, but it’s nice sometimes, for real – to someone with a corkscrew to drop by. What’s there to loose? You got the whole weekend ahead of you (Did I mention it is a Friday night?) Or you could rob a corkscrew store with it, not the world’s best idea, though, giving it to be late night and the stores are all closed.

You could also take the pen and push the cork inside the bottle. That actually does work. You might get to spill some, but then again, at least there isn’t going to be shattered glass anywhere for the paws of the two to four legged friends. Notice I left a place for three legged dogs or cats, even squirrels.

So, you take the pen and grab the bottle. Your hands are getting a bit sweaty so you what your sleeve around the bottle. It keeps it in its place. Not completely, but firm enough. You take a breath.

You push the pen against the cork and push. Nothing happens, except the veins in your temples seems to be exploding, your face turns to red and the pen hurts your palm. A lot. You let go for awhile, and try again. No change to the situation. Cork is till on and you seem to be screwed.

A friend of yours, the one that has taken one more than you, mumbles something and offers you the stone from his hand. You look at him and smile and are about to shake your head, but change your mind and take the stone.

It is smooth on the other side, the side agains your palms has some edges and it feels, if not cold, then at least cool. You take the stone, push the bottle against the ground and hold it between your feet and hold the pen on your other hand against the cork. Then you slowly but firmly hammer the pen inside the bottle with the stone and finally, you’re done. Everything’s fine again, you drink the wine, get in to the night and wake up next morning with a hangover and some blurry memories. You might even end up having fun, who knows.

What I mean here is that you should choose your tools, for real. First of all you need to know that you have a need for a tool, then you need to check what requirements you have for it, then you need to find it. Thanks to the interwebs, it is fairly easy nowadays. After finding the tools, take several, and use them for awhile in the situation needed. So to say, evaluate them.

If you run into problems with the tool (you should, for real, even a sledgehammer needs some maintenance), try to find out if anybody has had the same issues. Most likely you’re not alone.

Check the maintenance costs. If you use more time maintaining the tool than the flaky tests, you probably have the wrong tool. Regardless on how good it looks, sounds or feels.

And once and for all; don’t get stuck with the first evaluation, don’t get stuck with your evaluation choice, either. In case the tool loses its focus and usability, make sure you can move away from it.

I myself are at the moment in that kind of situation: using a multitool with a gentle learning curve, but the maintenance and the license is starting to feel bad. It was a tool I was familiar with, a tool I’ve used for years in the previous companies, and it used to be an open source tool. They ended the open source path last year (if I remember correctly) and otherwise turned the usability a bit more worse, too.

So I’m considering moving the tests to another multitool, an open source based tool with steeper learning curve, but a considerably larger user group. Actually, I’ve done my consideration, all I need to do now is to transfer and modify the current tests from the first tool to the second one.

Tools for reading, writing and editing


Cow Tools. (c) Gary Larson

What can be considered as a tool? Whatever that is filling the needs while used, ain’t it so? A stone is a tool of hammering (Ok, I admit I should myself drop the hammer now) and for keeping door not to be shut. But I wouldn’t go so far that even think of trying to use it as a screwdriver. Well, I actually did think about it. Gary Larson had a brilliant frame about stone age tools, btw.

According to Wikipedia “A tool is any physical item that can be used to achieve a goal, especially if the item is not consumed in the process. Informally the word is also used to describe a procedure or process with a specific purpose. Tool use by humans dates back millions of years, and other animals are also known to employ simple tools.”

So it seems a tool can be whatever we find to be fit.

So what is a test tool, then? For me it sounds to be a tool that is used for testing something, to prove that the object to be tested behaves according the expectations. And now, remember here, as a software tester, the expectations are that the tested object behaves somewhat faulty and weird. Developers live in a beautiful world where their programs work flawlessy day after day no matter the circumstances. And here comes the tester in and ruines it all with the help of his tools. Neat, ain’t it 😀

I’d start with pen and paper. Or a marker and a whiteboard. They are both brilliant tools for thought processing in order to get a grip what needs to be tested. At this point the review of the documentation plays a big role and can also lead to that some possible flaws in design process can be spotted, too. Yes I know, it’s a long shot that there is any, dear developers, we all know you don’t make mistakes. It’s the tester that plants the bug inside the program, ain’t it so?
Besides examining and writing down the test processes and needed test cases the pen and paper can afterwards be used for test journaling, too. So no surprise there; some of the simpliest tools are actually multitools.

Then there’s the native tools that are provided by every operating system. Notepad, TextEdit, Vi, Emacs, Wordpad and Gedit. Completely and highly usable tools for taking notes and reading test results.
I try to avoid Notepad as much as I can. It’s hard to read and edit text files that have no linebreaks. Plus that it lacks a descent way to search and replace. Same can be applied to Wordpad, too. In windows I’ve been using Notepad++ in all kind of editing, reading and writing. It is free, easy to use and comes with bunch of neat features.
To be honest TextEdit in OSX is not that good either. It is obvious for me to use TextWrangler on editing and watching the results of text files. Or to create HTML/XML -inputs, SQL -sentences etc. For writing in OSX, Writeroom is by far the best tool I can use when it comes to pure writing. I’m actually using it at the moment. It is a distraction free text editor. Unfortunately it is not free, but the price of 9,99 $ is not that big in order to get it working. By the way, should all the software we use be free? To be honest, I don’t think so, but that’s a different topic and a subject for a different blog entry as itself 😀
Since I’ve been working with linux quite a lot, vi or vim has been my main editor for years. Ever since I learned how to write changes to the file and quit (:wq or :x) I’ve been every now and then trying to do so when quitting a terminal connection. Besides the odd commands it does have a powerful way of manipulating big textfiles with several great options on replacing all or finding a certain string(s) inside the file. I know I’ve been just scratching the surface on this one, too, but it really has helped me a lot more than nano or pico ever did. yes, I’ve used them, too, but that was even more long ago 😀
Emacs I tried maybe two times, but it has been more or less too much for me. Now here’s the place for a flame -comments, then. Vim or Emacs?
Now just one question: do I really have to tell you the reason why I don’t use gedit at all? Or at least I try to avoid using it as much as I can. It is too heavy and clumsy when compared to vi/vim. Now I know there’s a GUI fo emacs, too, but as said I’ve never had a reason to use that one either. Vim has done the job I’ve needed to get done. And that’s the main reason (at least for me) to choose the tool in hand.

It seems also that this article is just a scratch on the surface: I really need to write a bit more on these tools.

BTW, this article was written with WriteRoom Big Grin :D

Soundtrack: Dire Straits – Brothers In Arms – 20th Anniversary Edition