NaNoWriMo 2014 – Week Three

Where our hero discovers novel writing isn't as bad as last week, and interrogates some characters. After ten years of novel writing, we made it to the Night of Writing Dangerously!

Saturday 15th
32667 words, 2017 today. Wrote in Bread and Cocoa after breakfast, before heading out to Imagiknit in the Castro district. San Francisco feels like a very European city, good public transport, everyone walking around, diverse population. So many iPhones! The PDF copy of my novel so far is 90 pages long and I'm about to throw a big wrench into the story. Wrote more in Samovar Tea Lounge, across the street from Imagiknit. Left the hoodie behind today, way too warm for that extra layer. Went to the NaNoWriMo Out-Of-Towner's get-together in the evening, met Grant Faulkner, and saw the others from the office again, plus some of the LA train contingent.

Sunday 16th
36275 words, 3608 today. It's the Night of Writing Dangerously! Wrote a little before breakfast and after, went out to Pier 39 to see sea lions. There were two sets of sea lions, plus a couple of introvert sea lions on their own floating platforms away form the others. Had crab for lunch and took a tram back to the hotel. Walked to the Julia Morgan Ballroom in a purple velvet dress with a hefty laptop bag. Hit the candy buffet, there were tea refills at the table, and so many people writing. Wrote over three thousand words and made up my deficit from last week's lack-of-plot-induced wobble. There were cupcakes, milk and cookies, singing and dancing, and so many words. Met Chris Baty right at the end of the night to say thanks for a decade of craziness and fun.

Monday 17th
37017 words, 742 today. Leaving sunny California and going home to below-freezing, snowy, St Louis. Succumbed to the caffé bon-bon at Bread and Cocoa, double espresso shot with condensed milk, powerful stuff. Took the Bart train to the airport, lazy lunch before a 4pm flight back home. Heading from t-shirt weather to snow and below freezing till Wednesday, ugh. Still feeling the effects of not having a plan up-front but some plot appears to be happening in spite of it.

Tuesday 18th
37528 words, 511 today. So tired. Horribly late night due to a delayed plane, asked a friend to sit with me in the last meeting of the day and make sure I stayed awake. Wrote a little at lunch and took the night off, fed a friend steak and kidney pie, he made brownies and we compared the UK and US versions of Top Gear. Hands down a UK win, no question.

Wednesday 19th
39631 words, 2103 today. Writing in the gap between work and karate, and between karate group class and my private lesson. It's amazing what a decent night's sleep can do for you. Interrogating one of my main characters to find out what she actually wants. She got what she wanted, but what happens next for her? Also she got to make tea, proper English tea with milk and sugar. Everything's better when there's tea.

Thursday 20th
40359 words, 728 today. Another lunchtime writing session in the hidden conference room at work, the one no-one knows is there. Got ambushed by an Apple Update in the evening, and a Founders Porter.

Friday 21st
42831 words, 2472 today. Playing with my Villain and her minions today, and I'm ending it right before a big fight scene so I can get a good start tomorrow. This story won't be done at 50k, but I really want to find out where it's going.

Daily updates over on the NaNoWriMo 2014 daily diary.

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NaNoWriMo 2014 – Week Two

NaNoWriMo lore says that Week Two is an icy blast of cold on Week One's sunny progress. I'm definitely feeling the ill effects of not having a road-map to where this novel is going. Lots of cool characters, but not much idea of things they desperately want.

Saturday 8th
20057 words, 3313 today. Off to the Crooked Tree for a morning's work. Went there a few months back and got asked "What are you doing here? It's not November." Was at 1875 for the day when I left there, want to get over the 20k line today and that's another 1381 away. NaNoWordSprints to the rescue again, 907 words in 5 and 10 minute sprints alone.

Sunday 9th
22115 words, 2058 today.Just under 300 words before church, then I made it over my 2k at the central StLNaNo write-in in Clayton. Turned up at 12:30, left at 4pm. Characters from previous books in this series are turning up uninvited and demanding airtime.

Monday 10th
23990 words, 1848 today. No writing at lunch, did almost all of this after work at the St Louis Bread Company near the karate studio, and some in the lobby of the studio before group class, lesson, and sparring class. It's getting dark at 4:30pm now, which is hard to bear. Didn't quite make my 2k a day bar, but I nailed the NaNoWriMo 1667 words a day.

Tuesday 11th
24520 words, 530 today. Hello week 2 wall, I'm officially stuck. I have a bunch of cool characters but I'm hazy on what a lot of them want other than to be left alone to live their lives.

Wednesday 12th
26374 words, 1854 today. And I'm BACK. I know how to make this story worse for my characters. All of my characters. There will be balance between universes. And explosions. I've burned my buffer of words, but if I can keep my normal 2k a day pace for the rest of the week, I'll be in a good spot.

Thursday 13th
28641 words, 2267 today, and some of those were on a plane. Off work, wrote a little before my haircut and more after at home. Flying out to San Francisco for the Night of Writing Dangerously! After 11 years doing NaNoWriMo and ten completed novels, this is our first time at the NoWD. I'm writing the biggest character in St Louis into my story, the Gateway Arch, and it will play a big part in the story. Such a late night, didn't get into the hotel till past 2am Central time, midnight Pacific time.

Friday 14th
30650 words, 2009 today. No snow in San Francisco, it's WARM here. T-shirt in the street warm, unlike the freezing temperatures and snow in St Louis. Wandered around downtown before heading out to Oakland and the Office of Letters and Light on the Bart train. Paul went next door to talk tech with the resident geek, Dave. I sat at the back of the office writing at the break table, after checking out the conference room with the official board member Viking helmets (to be worn when decisions are made). Left them a hedgehog drawing for the wall, and got a ride back to the Bart station with Sarah and Shelby, leaving Shelby the sole American in the car. Finished up the days word count in a cafe off Montgomery Street, we walked all over the world today. FitBit says over five miles. Put together the second regional stats update, St Louis region is over 9 million words so far.

Daily updates over on the NaNoWriMo 2014 daily diary.

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NaNoWriMo 2014 – Week One

Week One is where you ride the wave and stack up as many words as you can in preparation for the cold shock of the dreaded Week Two. I realised this week if I finish book 4 of my trilogy (and then go back and finish the story for book #2), I'll have over 200,000 words of this series. And if I finish this, my tenth NaNoWriMo novel, I'll have written as many words as are in Tolstoy's War and Peace, something I use for software testing because it is so long.

Saturday 1st
3077 words. 615 in front of the light box in the morning feels like a good start, over the 2k mark at Crooked Tree in St Charles after working in Stone Spiral during knit group, finished up at home after some Ubuntu work on my Alienware laptop (yay for bootable Linux installs). We are blessed with five weekends this NaNo year!

Sunday 2nd
5312 words, 2235 today. Testing Scrivener's Mac/Windows file compatibility today, I need the dual boot Win7/Ubuntu Linux machine with me instead of my trusty MacBook Pro. Thank goodness for the 32Gb thumb drive, I can throw everything on that and work wherever. This also proved that Scrivener files work on both Mac and Win7. Two characters decided to have lunch. One of them didn't exist yesterday. It's starting to look like I have a story to tell.

Monday 3rd
7351 words, 2039 today. Off-site at a client office, with one of those working lunches, came home exhausted and cancelled karate for the night. Pro tip: if your meeting room is the temperature of an icebox, people are probably not paying attention. Having trouble making the word count.

Tuesday 4th
9707 words, 2356 today.This was a hard day to get work done. Wrote a little before work, more at lunch while fixing a co-worker's knitting skills, and ground out the last bit at home. I feel woefully under-plotted for this story but things are happening I didn't expect. Went out and voted, so I have retained my right to complain about the results, and even got to use the newfangled touchscreen voting booth.

Wednesday 5th
12262 words, 2555 today. Crossed the 10k mark before work and earned another NaNoWriMo badge on my profile. 25k here I come! Planning to write in St Louis Bread Co before karate and hopefully knock out the second thousand words for the day with a character that's verbally sparring with her counselor/interrogator. Ended up doing a little in the karate studio between group class and my private lesson.

Thursday 6th
14532 words, 2270 today. Eight hundred words at lunch in the quietest conference room at work. Skipped ahead to a different character and got to pull in some work from my 2009 novel. Left a note for myself to go update that novel to match the current one, removing an explicit date reference to 2009 and replacing it with "early twenty-first century." And Yellow Cat, the mammoth orange tabby that we were feeding at our old house, has now turned up in his third novel. Cats hold the secret. Brought in the big guns and started following @NaNoWordSprints on Twitter, first sprint got me 455 words.

Friday 7th
16744 words, 2212 today. Made it over the thousand mark during lunch, characters are turning up in other character's scenes and causing trouble. Wonderful, word-count-inflating trouble. I'm wondering if I can break the 20k barrier this weekend, there's nothing planned except write-ins.

Daily updates over on the NaNoWriMo 2014 daily diary.

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The Red Team Rules for Software QA

I found the Original 12 Red Team Rules recently (there's profanity in the list), and a lot of them are relevant to life as a software quality advocate/analyst/engineer/assurance person with a bit of modification.

Rule 1: Know when the test will be over.
(Was: Always have an escape plan).

Rule 2: Be aware of the environment for your app, database, network, mobile devices, etc. (Was: Be aware of your surroundings.) Different environments require different testing strategies and tools.

Rule 3: Assume nothing.
(Was: Assumption is the mother of all f***ups.) Get your acceptance criteria spelled out, and if there's not code in place to stop you trying something, do it.

Rule 4: Vary your attack.
(Was: Always have a backup plan.) If you don't find a bug the first time out, try something different. Someone that always tests the same way won't find new kinds of defects.

Rule 5: Never get caught by surprise.
(Was: Never get caught.) Know your application, who will be using it, how they will use it, and its vulnerabilities.

Rule 6: Collaborate effectively.
(Was: Keep your mouth shut.) Quality is a collaborative process, but talk with respect, and don't log a half-baked bug report that can't be replicated.

Rule 7: KISS: Keep it simple, stupid.
This applies equally to QA and the Red Team. Write stories, acceptance criteria, bug reports, and regression test plans that a total stranger could follow. Because in six months time, that total stranger could be you.

Rule 8: Simple and light equals freedom, agility and mobility.
Don't get bogged down in a document-heavy test process. Test Driven Development will help if you can read code (and QA people should be reading the code).

Rule 9: Do the job and then go home.
(Was: Plan, execute, and vanish.) Tired and cranky people do poor work.

Rule 10: Automate the boring bits.
(Was: You don’t have to like it - you just have to do it.) Sometimes we have to do repetitive stuff. Automate it if you can so you don't have to do it again, but don't duplicate automated tests.

Rule 11: Always invest in good quality stuff.
Get the right tool for the job and learn to use it well. JMeter is unfriendly but provides excellent information.

Rule 12: Trust your gut.
If you have a hunch there's a bug in an area of the application, keep digging until you find it.

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Candidates, things your interviewers want you to know

(This is close to my heart because I’ve done a bunch of interviews lately, some good, some not so good.)

If a skill or qualification is on your resume, I will ask you about it, especially if it's one I also have. Claim to know C# and I’ll ask you C# questions. Claim to know Java and I have a set of Java questions ready to roll. If you say you’re an ISTQB certified tester but don’t know their core testing principles from the syllabus, that’s a problem.

Never lie to me. If you didn’t do your pre-interview essay questions yourself, it will be obvious when I talk to you. I’d rather you said "I don’t know how to do that, but here’s how I might try." Even if you're on the wrong track, a valiant attempt is far better than a copied answer.

Never ever give me someone else’s answers. Seriously. I can’t believe I have to say this. Things you found on the internet, copied in wholesale, and tried to pass off as your own leave a bad taste in my mouth.

Have some questions to ask me. Because your questions to me are also part of how I assess you. If you ask about the vacation policy, required working hours, and working from home in the interview, those questions worry me.

Don't have sections copied and pasted from elsewhere on your resume. Why bother telling me the same stuff twice or four times? Don't waste space and don't waste my time.

It’s a conversation, not an interrogation. Brainstorm with me, think out loud, if I draw on the whiteboard and hand you a marker, use it. Bad art skills are never a disqualifier for software quality jobs.

Have examples to common questions ready, because I’ll ask you for specifics.

Smile. Even if you’re nervous, fake it if you have to.

Don’t bad-mouth your past or current employers. Even if they’re horrible, find a way to say it that doesn’t involve saying awful things about them. We already know there’s some reason you want to work elsewhere.

You’re interviewing us too, and this job may not be a good fit for you. Better to find that out now than take the job and hate it.

Have a reason for why this job at this company. If you don't want to be here, I find it odd that you'd go to the trouble of interviewing.

If it's a phone interview, make sure you answer the phone when I call. If the line is engaged or I end up in voicemail, that doesn't start the interview off well.

Getting both in to and out of the building are also important. I had one candidate call HR to say the building was locked and she couldn't get in. It wasn't locked. Same candidate also walked straight past the elevators and into the kitchen when I said goodbye, and just stood there looking confused for a bit. If you can't figure out building navigation when you're nervous, not a good sign.

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Your software project might have a QA if…

Some of these are mine, some I lifted from the company Slack channel for Quality Advocacy.

  • You're used to finding Cyrillic or Greek or Mandarin in the database
  • There's code in place to stop you copying War and Peace into the app multiple times
  • You know how the system reacts with 10 users, or 50, or 500, or 5000
  • Your developers know what happened between 4th and 15th October 1582
  • You have client-side and server-side data validation
  • This conversation: "But why would you even do that?" "Because there was nothing to stop me."
  • You know when Daylight Savings Time starts in Australia
  • Names and addresses make you nervous
  • Your app looks stunning with the colors reversed
  • You know how to close your h3 tags
  • You fear what will happen to everything run by computers in January of 2038
  • Your app survives a genuine DDoS attack in production and everyone shrugs because "she's done worse to us in dev."
Posted in Geek/Tech, Humour, QA | 1 Comment

“You’re an introvert? Are you sure?”

I get that a lot. My usual response is that I can play extrovert really well, but it's draining. With one person, or two, I'm just fine. With people I'm familiar with and comfortable with, like my knit group, I'm OK. With a big group, or a lot of people I don't know well, interaction is work, and there is a cost I'll have to pay in terms of tiredness, irritability, and generally wanting to hide in a cave.

Before a party, all-day company meeting, or gathering of strangers, I have a routine. First you put on the battle armour, clothes and shoes picked with a goal in mind, whether it be comfort or looking good. Next is the war-paint, tactical amounts of make-up to hide behind. You can't see me, you see only my eyeliner and lipstick. Finally there's the smile, faked or otherwise. Afterwards there will be the "leave me alone" energy crash, time when I need to recharge and be in a silent house with just husband and cats. We've been married nineteen years and long ago he moved from "people that require work to be with", to "people I like to be with even when I'm all people'd out".

Some people sit in their heads and think about what they want to say, then say it. Other people talk to figure out what they want to say, and then they say it. I've come across a lot of introverts that think first then talk, and a lot of extroverts that talk first, then say the useful thing. As an introvert, there's a lot going on in my head at any one time. Right now I'm noodling on what the plot will be for my NaNoWriMo novel this year, planning a gift swap parcel for an online knitting group, thinking about career feedback I've been getting, and a lot more. I like to consider what to say before I say it, and if that means waiting through an awkward silence, I'm fine with that. Most people baulk at silences, and around the seven second mark will jump in and say anything that comes to mind, just to make it stop. Silence is my natural environment. I'm comfortable there.

I don't see being an introvert as a disability, or an illness, or a defect. It is how I am wired. I am rarely bored because there is a lot going on in my head. I've always created story worlds when I write, and though only a fraction of that shows up in the finished story, it is the underpinning of the whole thing. But people, especially strangers in groups, require effort.

(Today I met an introvert who talks to figure out what to say, they do exist!)

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Sh*t my QA says

There is a bug, I just haven't found it yet.

Well, it's broken on my machine!

In the Danish version of Windows, if you click really fast, the app just crashes.

It doesn't work when I put Cyrillic text in. Or Greek, Hebrew, or Mandarin.

One copy of "War and Peace" in the description field was OK, but the second crashed it.

What if you rotate the screen/turn on airplane mode/get a text/drop the phone into the toilet from ten feet up?

The app doesn't handle itself well if you delete its database after you log in.

Ooh, I haven't seen it do that before! Wonder if it'll do it again?

Can't stop, I saw a bug and I'm trying to find it again.

(From a QA friend) There you are, you little sh*t! I have you now!

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Favourite writing tools

My TWSBI 580 fountain pen is one of my favourites. It's not the most expensive fountain pen, but it always starts well, writes smoothly, and the piston-fill ink reservoir holds a LOT of ink. It's currently filled with the original formulation of Noodler's Black Swan in Australian Roses ink, a gorgeous dark purple burgundy colour. Planning to swap out the medium nib for a fine one at some point.

2014-09-20 07.23.47

The newest pen is a Tactile Turn Mover in teal anodised aluminium, and it is gorgeous. The exploded view shows some of the nifty design, the clip is inset into the top part of the pen, and held in place when you screw the click part in. The grip section has a pattern on it that makes it very easy to hold, much nicer than holding smooth metal. The click is almost silent, and the pen is a nice thickness. I've got small hands but I like thicker than average pens. All around this is a very nice pen that went straight into my everyday carry set.

I also have the Bolt, from Karas Kustoms. It takes a Fisher Space Pen refill, and the bolt action is fun to play with. Currently it has the turquoise refill in. The Fisher refills feel like the ink is thicker than a standard ballpoint but they always just write. The Bolt is fun to play with, after a little practice you can operate it with one hand.

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From electronic to paper

I'd been using an electronic task list for keeping my to-do's, and it worked well enough, sort of. I got stuff done, but the list of completed tasks was flaky and didn't always display. The main list stopped updating, some tasks would duplicate, and it wasn't working well.

So I thought I'd try the paper solution. I picked up a pack of Word notebooks from JetPens. There was a Nock Co Hightower sat around from their Kickstarter campaign last year, and it all came together at once.

This has become my constant companion. The Word notebooks have a circle on each line that you cross out when the task is done. Work tasks and lists in the back, personal ones in the front, and a small set of things I should be doing all the time in the middle (drinking water after each caffeinated beverage, karate practice, some others).

The Facebook lists of movies that stayed with me, and books that had an impact on my life, are in there. The definition of what I want my role at work to be is in there, and a list of exactly why the client should want us doing automated regression tests (halving the defect rate for one). I always have my three favourite pens and something to write on. It's a happy orange colour you really can't miss. This combination, the paper to-do list, the orange case, and the three pens, works wonderfully. I get stuff done and I can see what's left undone. And when the notebook is full, I have a journal of sorts.

For this round, paper beats electronic.

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