Monday, April 9, 2012

The Easter Bunny Cometh …

It's that chocolaty time of year where everyone is talking eggs and bunnies. Loads of pictures of the cute critters are passing around in the internet on Facebook and Twitter. And yet there is a small part of my mind which wants to cry out in terror …

I lived for a while in England as part of the community of the Isle of Portland, who have a particular quirk that a lot of outsiders will regard as quaint. They have a mortal dread of bunnies. Bunnies are seen as the harbingers of death and doom. The R-word is forbidden – in fact I've known someone who was asked to leave a bar because they thought it funny to mention the word “rabbit”, and it really upset the locals. When the film “Wallace and Grommit and the Curse of the Were-Rabbit” came out, they had to have special posters for the island which removed the R-word.

You've probably read that and had a bit of a giggle. It does sound unbelievable doesn't it? And yet it's completely true. Now read on … There is actually something in this. Portland is most famous for it's stone, of which St Pauls Cathedral in London, The Tower of London, Westiminster Palace, London Bridge were all made.

Within the Portland quarries, warrens of rabbits would sometimes build burrows near the quarry edge. These would weaken the quarry sides, and often cause landslides which would lead to the deaths of the workers below. Workers began to notice the connection between bunnies and deadly landslides, and so someone calling out “rabbit!” would mean “danger ahead”.

Over time the fear of the rabbits remained, passed on by urban myth to each new generation. But the reasoning for it got lost.

The way urban myth plays out is often somewhat fascinating – usually in the stories the grain of truth remains, but a lot of the details get embellished so the real story gets lost. I've found that with a lot of legacy code, similar urban myths hang around about it.

At work at the moment we are using an application which is only about 15 years old. We're making a very small cosmetic change to a part of it, but the team responsible tells us we have to run a complete 6 week regression test – which obviously is more costly than we'd planned. On paper it looks a minor change, which we should only have to test around with a few token checks elsewhere. But several members of the team insist they know someone who knew someone who tried that before and it caused major problems.

We've looked through this application's documentation, and we can't find this written down anywhere. And yet this team's insistence that this level of testing is required is so absolute there's obviously something to what they say, but no quantifiable proof. It does make my role difficult – of course I challenge them on this, but at the same time have to bow down to their experience in this area.

However at the end of the day, I'd like to see just what is myth and what is reason in their argument ...


  1. Good blog Mike. First is that a real rabbit? He looks like the size of a child! It is interesting how we make decisions based upon heresay with no real facts to back up the statement. But yet the fear is introduced and heaven forbid you ignore the heresay and something does go wrong! Hopefully this is a situation where building trust over time with this group will reduce (if appropriate) the amount of regression testing if it is excessive.

    1. That is indeed a real bunny (you almost tricked me into saying the R-word).