Sunday, October 7, 2012

Welcome to the testing man cave ...

I've been lucky that we have a spare room in our house, which can be dedicated just to "hobbies".  My wife calls it my "man cave", and it's the place I've done most of my writing for my book the Software Minefield, and where I remote work from when I need to work from home.

As you'll come to appreciate, it's my thinking space, and I feel it's important every tester has a space do sit in and read, learn, engage to develop not just their craft but themselves.  When we lived in a one bedroom flat, I still had a space in the bedroom with an armchair where I could do this (it doesn't have to be a room) whilst my wife would watch soap operas some evenings.  [I hate soap operas]

Art is subjective ...

Part of the charm of this room is that it is a hobby room, and thus filled with the things we've collected and activities we've tried.  As I've mentioned before, my friend Violet was an artist, and tried to encourage the artist in me, despite me being more your classic scientist/engineer.  But I gave it a try, and consequently so did my wife (she is really good).

I started out really reluctantly.  I was awful at art in secondary school, but as a young child I loved to draw.  It's hard to start at an activity when you're in your late 30s and sure you're going to be awful.  So I got a book at drawing, and started with drawing wine glasses, and got comfortable doing that, and piece by piece got a bit more adventurous.

Being an engineer I draw great pictures of any machine, but people often end up looking distinctly odd.  But I've got better.

And perhaps that's the point.  I started off, I was awful.  I scaled down my ambitions, started simply and developed a bit at a time, rather than trying to do the Mona Lisa on day one.

None of us are naturals.  Not even in software testing.  But we get good by trying things out, working out the basics, what works, what doesn't.  Some people will then say we "feedback to optimise the process", but I call it just plain learning.

Books ...

Usually my bookshelf is a bit more organised into themes-by-row, but this shows just how eclectic my bookshelf is.  There are books on software engineering here (more books on programming than testing I'll admit), books on physics and astronomy (my old textbooks), history (English Civil War and Oliver Cromwell mainly), psychology, religion (I have a copy of the Bible next to a translation of the Quran).  Oh and some comic books (I never grew up).

Some of these books are for reading, some for reference.  I've always liked to have my textbooks nearby to look through.  One of the most used books in my career has been Spherical Astronomy, because it's got several equations for conversions of latitude and longitude that I've needed to use again and again.

Probably my most read book is The Watchmen, a graphic novel from the 80s which I first read when I was 16.  I read it every few years (hence two copies), and always notice something new (even a master tester doesn't notice everything first time around).  What I love about it is as I grow older and my world view changes (and indeed the roles I play change), I find myself identifying with different characters.

Please do not attempt Stairway To Heaven ...

When I was 16 and finished my school exams, I spent the whole summer trying to learn the guitar.  It was going to make me cool and get me girls.

There was a flaw though.  I never got any good.  Even basic chords I found difficult and painful to make.  I kept trying, but never got easier.

I have artwork in this room, I had a go, and got better.  But not so with the guitar.  I ended up learning to play the pennywhistle instead which isn't as cool, and did not get me girls.

These days I keep it around to remind myself you can't do everything.  Sometimes I have a go again to see if I've magically got better ... and I haven't.

Computers ...

There are a lot of computers in this room, but only one was particularly expensive.  The machine on the right was the games machine I put a lot of hard earned pennies into a few years back.  I deliberately bought a Vista machine in 2007 hearing how troubled they were.  The tester in me went "ker-ching" thinking understanding a buggy platform would help me get even more testing work.

Sometimes I think Vista gets a bad rep.  Most of the early pain came from many suppliers refusing to supply drivers for Vista platform, only for XP.  Hence a lot of the blame was laid at Vista.  In trying to fix all these problems I'd download more an more software to the machine until it became a bit bloated. Thankfully eventually stripped it down again and it worked much better.  Thats said I do feel Microsoft never got Vista working quite as it should (Windows 7 seems a much better experience).  My son uses this machine to play those huge strategy games like Rome Total War and Dawn Of War.

The machine on the left is one of the many machines I tinker with.  Back in 2003 we had a 3 month period where there was very little work on, and so my role was "downgraded" and I was made to work for IT support for a while.  It initially felt humiliating, but I got with the spirit of it.

You see, until that point I was a programmer and occasional tester of software.  But really I knew very little about the machines themselves.  During my time in IT support I learned to build the machines, swap components, apply patches, take images, build and install a machine from scratch, monitor IP addresses, manage servers, modify accounts.

So that initial humiliation turned into "wow I'm learning stuff", and made me braver with my computer at home, and a much better tester.  It's amazing the opportunities life will give you, if you embrace them for what they have the potential to be!

Consequentially I never throw computers away if I can avoid in (you will learn about Frankenstein in a moment).  But also people tend to give me old machines to see if I can make use of them.

Something I love to do is to "relife" old machines by giving them a suitable Linux platform.  Linux is much lighter than Windows, and hence a machine struggling under Windows will seem much quicker with a suitably light Linux operating system.  Also Linux allows me to keep my hand in with Unix commands (I'm an ex-Unix developer after all), although modern Linux is very GUI driven now and surprisingly intuitive that you rarely need the command line.

In all in this room there are 3 desktops and 4 laptops - 2 of those laptops are non-functional (I'm working on them).  Most of those machines are over 10 years old.  One of the desktops (the one on the left in the picture) needs to go into another room, once I'm finished with it ...

If I can get those 2 laptops working, they'll be given to some friends of ours whose kids could do with a dedicated machine for writing homework.

Deskspace ...

This is where I do some writing and where I do my office working from home.  Note the R2-D2 USB hub (again with the never-grew-up).  That seat is surprisingly comfortable, though I suppose from HR I should have an office swivel chair ...

The view ...

It's pretty isn't it?  But reminds me I need to do the lawn (draws curtains back again).

Frankenstein machine ...

I have either had this machine for a year, or else had it for 6 years.  I'm never quite sure.  Last year one of my computers died a death.  But I managed to build a new one from some of it's parts together with another machine (hence why this is called Frankenstein).

I thus have a huge emotional attachment to this machine, as it's essentially my baby.  This is the one I write most of my pieces on.  It's an Ubuntu machine connected to our old TV (which can dual purpose as a monitor).  It also serves as a Samba server to allow file sharing between the other machines in the house.

I used a wireless keyboard and write either from the couch or (like right now) sitting on the floor.

Toys and stuff ...

My wife's rule is that the mancave is the one room of the house I'm allowed to be a bit of a geek in ...

Hence there are many of the sci-fi toys I had as a kid all around the place.  Okay some I got after being a kid, but I was still a kid at heart.  I obviously loved Star Wars, and have a thing for R2-D2.  But there's more than just toys here.  There are ornaments people have given us, replica swords (though not on display), a buggle (no, not even I know why), binoculars, a telescope, board games.

There is a clock here that my late father-in-law got and repaired for us.  It's perhaps poignant that it's stopped working.  He had learned to repair clocks like I'd learned to repair computers, and just loved to tinker with them, and would tell me all about them.  Like me and machines it was more than just something to do, it was a passion.  He loved to tinker and one of his proudest achievements was rewiring a cheap kids toy to use as a doorbell ... his grandkids loved it when they pressed his doorbell, and it sounded like the Police were coming.

Wrapping up the tour ...

This room probably reminds me of my head.  There's a lot going on inside it.  It's a bit cluttered, and some hoarding going on for sure.

But there's a lot that makes me smile.  I hope this isn't just materialism, as the things inside are nothing too flash, but it all fires my memories.  It reminds my of my childhood, of things I can achieve, of things I can't achieve, of things I've read, of things I need to learn, of people who've inspired me.

Is it any wonder I do my best work here?


  1. Your man cave tells a lot about you! I think having so many different interests is one reason you're such a good tester. You're able to consider things from many viewpoints, and you're obviously creative! And what a nice view to ponder! Makes me re-think my plan to have my office in the basement of the new house. As you point out, it doesn't take much room, so maybe I can squeeze one into the sun porch!

  2. I relate to just about all you've shown. Love history, love Apollo 13 (what engineer doesn't), love guitars (someday, I'll learn how to play mine), have to have a view to ponder. I agree with Lisa, having different interests makes good testers as we have to look at things from different perspectives. I need to make sure my new place has a really comfy place to sit while working.

  3. Thanks Mike for inviting us into your man cave. I don't know if we will ever meet - but I did enjoy the visit! And the beautiful view of the mountains - as I love mountains!