Series and we, the morons

January 7th, 2008 § 2 comments § permalink

I think–no, strike that, I’m sure some writers think we are complete morons.

I was watching an episode of CSI Miami today that showed, in the opening teaser, the following piece of dialog between Horation Cane–the series’ main character–and his medical examiner. A woman was dead, and the medical examiner told Cane that she had found two kinds of wounds: one caused by a serrated knife, which was the one who had really killed the woman, and another, caused by a plain knife and inflected post-mortem in the shape of the letter Y. Horatio Cane–made famous by his cheese one-liners, proceeds to utter the following statement:

“That would mean the second wound is a serial killer signature”

No freaking kidding, Sherlock!

As if the fact that I’m somewhat educated, that I’m watching a criminal drama and, therefore, used to this kind of theme, would not be sufficient to think the exact same think a hundredth of second after hearing what the medical examiner had said.

I also remember an episode of House in which he describes to his underlings how the immune system works. If he has to explain that to a neurologist, and immunologist (!) and a specialist in intensive care, he really needs different people working with him. Maybe that’s way they all left him in the end of the third season. :-)

Anyway, sometimes you need to explain certain terms and motives to the people watching the series; sometimes, what the specialist is trying to say is too technical and some people will not understand it otherwise. But you don’t need to insult the intelligence of the other people who do understand what is being said. If House was Grey’s Anatomy, I would gladly let it pass. But House watchers deserve better.

In the CSI Miami episode, it would just be a matter of waiting until the story developed enough to show the background of the assassin, something they would have to do anyway. In the House episode, the explanation could easily have been provided to another person, the patient itself or his family.

And to think that some TV executives that will try t explain the poor rating by blaming by saying that the public didn’t receive the show well. Of course, I’d say, with such writing people will deliberately not watch.

RIA in 2008

January 6th, 2008 § 0 comments § permalink

Tim Bray began his predictions for 2008 saying that this is the decisive year for RIA applications: either they become mainstream or they will be relegated to the dust bin of history. Given the news about Microsoft planning to overhaul its entire site to show their RIA platform, Tim Bray is probably right in saying this will be a important year for RIA technologies.

Bray makes an interesting point when he says that he tends to associated “richness” not with interface–which, he also says, is something only developers care about–but with the interactive capabilities of applications, regardless of the technology they use. I agree, but I also think that Silverlight and Flex (and similar technologies) may have a useful role in a different place, providing different levels of interface in a very specific class of applications: internal sites.

Obviously, Microsoft and Adobe are setting their sights much higher than that. The former with its pathological need to control the industry; the latter, with its duplicity about open sourcing its products. I’m not worried. Public facing applications have different interaction and accessibility needs, and no developer is going to use technologies that will actively harm their applications on those two areas. One of the main problems plaguing alternative interfaces is that they are always trying to catch up with what users have grown used to and they can never succeed. Between dealing with the cognitive dissonance they force users to experience and dealing with multiple hosting system, they don’t have the leverage to compete with the advances being made in JavaScript integration.

Another interesting point Tim Bray makes is that most applications are Web-enabled to some extent–even if users don’t realize it. Add that to the growing research in offline/online integration and we are dealing with an entirely different playing field.

Contrary to Bray, I will risk a definitive prediction: RIA, with regards to Flex and Silverlight, will indeed be recognized as a secondary option this year, and no big applications–Microsoft site notwithstanding–will be launched using either technology. Conversely, we will see people using Silverlight or Flex in internal applications.

The rest of the year, however, will belong to Ajax.

Motivation and testing

January 5th, 2008 § 0 comments § permalink

I guess I can safely say that most programmers consider testing is an essential part of the software development process–even those who are not using any format framework right now beyond following a prepared script about what should be tested and how it should be tested.

Ironically, the parallel ascension of Web applications as the preferred form of modern user interfaces and agile methodologies as a more efficient alternative to the usual coding creation systematics offered a unique opportunity to experimentation in the testing arena. Web applications are usually easier to test because you can automate most of the testing. Since they are not event-driven but based on linear protocols, testing Web applications can be done with less cost and more productivity. Likewise, agile methodologies bring to the playing field a need of experimentation to create more competitive practices that generated hundreds of new tools with a very pronounced effect on testing.

The end result is an increased awareness by developers of the testing process. Automated tests are becoming a premise of modern development techniques instead of a optional step in the development process. The benefits are clear: better management of changes in requirements, more robust products, improved integrations, and even better documentation depending on the tools a developer is using.

Even though those benefits are always touted as the main gains from testing, there is an additional benefit that is always overlooked people talk about the subject: the motivational gains testing can bring to the development process in the day to day coding.

Most new projects have complicated beginnings, with choices being made in the spur of the moment that will heavily influence their life-cycle. The motivational benefits of tests in the beginning of such projects can contribute to their development in two different ways: first, by making visible the project quality level from the first second; second, by the pure pleasure a passing test suite can bring to a developer.

People can be strongly influenced by what they see and a passing test suit can show that the work being done is not random but follows a precise structure that developers will then strive to keep.

Even legacy projects can use that to their advantage. By incrementally creating a testing process, developers will feel they are gaining control of a otherwise unyielding mass of code and that will be converted in other benefits as well, with better understanding of the code and progressive knowledge diffusion being two of the most important ones.

To underestimate the effect this kind of motivation can have on developers is the same as underestimating the human factor. Testing provides exactly the characteristics needed to increase motivation while also providing tangible technical benefits. And although the human factor is rarely factored in the choice of a methodology, the past few years have shown an increased awareness in this subject that is quite heartening.

So, the next time somebody complains that testing is a waste of time, maybe you don’t need to point only the technical benefits–the human benefits can be a strong selling point as well.

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