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Archive for September, 2008

The SkyCoaster Rocks!

Sunday, September 21st, 2008

Blue Slate Solutions has an annual family day and for the past couple of years it has been held at our local Six Flags (The Great Escape) in Lake George, NY.  This year it was held on September 14.  The weather looked suspicious in the morning but brightened up and cooperated throughout the afternoon and evening.

One ride that my family has considered on previous visits is The SkyCoaster.  If you are not familiar with the ride you can read about it at skycoaster.com.  The version at The Great Escape is 175 feet tall.

This year we went beyond the consideration stage and took flight!  We had a couple of coupons that allowed us to purchase two groups of three for one-third off.  Lisa did not think that she wanted to ride it so the plan was for Sarah and me to ride a couple of times with others that had made the trek.

Lisa took a video of our first ride.  She also decided that it looked like fun, so she took my place on the second ride.  Lisa tends to scream on rides, and this one was no exception!  I took over the video responsibilities and watched with Michael and a friend of his.  The two boys have decided that they want to give it a try next year.

All of us who took the plunge highly recommend this attraction.  Videos of our two rides are on YouTube:


Unit Testing As a Standard Is Nondescript

Monday, September 8th, 2008

Often when I am discussing programming practices with developers they are quick to mention their use of unit testing.  It is a badge of honor that they wear and rightly so.  “I test my code.  I care about the quality of my work!”  Of course unit testing means that the test is exercising a small “unit” of code, typically a method or function.  Does the term tell us anything else?  Are all unit tests equivalent?

The tools and techniques developers use for unit tests differ, such as using frameworks versus more homegrown approaches, but many developers stress the importance of unit testing. However, saying that one subscribes to the use of unit tests is like saying that someone uses a motorized vehicle.  There is a lot of detail missing.

If you explore someone’s motorized vehicle it might turn out to be a motorcycle, car, train, boat, etc.  What is meant by motorized vehicle can vary widely making the term ineffective when trying to determine the vehicle’s ability to carry or tow something.  In the same fashion, if you dive more deeply into each person’s definition of unit tests, it is clear that one developer’s unit testing is not the same as another’s.

Here I’ll explore some details surrounding unit testing.  I’ll start off with my two invariants: predefined results and automation.

A test is less effective if its result is not defined before the test is run.  Each test must be defined with its input and result documented.  This means that no interpretation on the part of the tester can be involved.  The reason for this is simple; people can convince themselves that an answer is correct when they see it.  If a tester enters a test input without a definition of the correct answer, he or she may be willing to accept the result as correct.  This is human nature; to accept information that we see presented.

A logical corollary is that unit tests should be automated.  In order to guarantee that the tester is not interpreting any results, let the computer do the check.  The result is a pass or fail.  No murky gray area where the tester tries to understand whether it is correct.  The automation also leads to the creation of a regression test suite that will grow with the code.  Finally, if the tests are automated, other tools can help us assess the completeness of the tests.

Beyond these two statements there are decisions that developers need to make about the types of unit tests that will be created.  These decisions impact the complexity of the tests that must be written as well as the number of tests required. (more…)

Late Summer in Southern Maine

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2008

My family just returned from a week in York Beach, Maine.  We love the area and typically head up there each year at some point.  A few highlights included unexpected treasure while hunting for sand dollars, a great musical in Ogunquit and comfortable swimming conditions.

Sarah and I walked the beach most days and typically kept our eyes open for interesting shells and sand dollars.  Low tide is best for such finds and we adjusted our schedule to match the tides.  On one of the days were were walking along Long Sands beach and encountered an area thick with seaweed.  Sarah and her New-Found Riches

Sarah was not enamored with the slimy sludge as it wrapped around her legs with each wave.  She complained about how “gross” the stuff was and wanted to move out of the water to avoid further encounters.  However, she spotted something green trapped in the plants and realized it was money.

Suddenly she was willing to walk through, reach into and touch the seaweed!  Her reward was a ten dollar bill.  For the remainder of the week she stopped complaining when we wandered through seaweed. (more…)