The Fermi Paradox


The Drake Equation and Enrico Fermi‘s paradox have always intrigued me.

The Drake Equation is represented as follows:


Obviously, when you look at the questions behind the various parameters – How many stars are there in the milky way? How many stars have habitable planets? etc. – there’s a considerable amount of guesswork involved.  As we learn more, parameters can be slowly refined and N can be calculated with a tad more certainty.

The real value of the Drake Equation is not in the answer itself, but the questions that are prompted when attempting to come up with an answer

The video below pulls-together both equation and paradox – and then neatly dovetails the concept of The Great Filter hypothesis.

Dan Carlin engagingly explains how it all fits-together.

A really interesting video.

The Umbrella Man


One of my all-time favorite New York Times OpDoc videos by Errol Morris.

Josiah “Tink” Thompson – who wrote the book “Six Seconds in Dallas” – describes The Umbrella Man.

I have watched this six-minute video at least twenty times in the past couple of years. I feel compelled to share it.  It is a terrific reminder.

If you haven’t seen it, I really hope you enjoy it.  If you have seen it, please enjoy it again.

Mr. Thompson’s ‘cautionary tale’ is pure wisdom.

Images courtesy of The New York Times.  Music:  Spiegel Im Spiegel (Mirror in the Mirror) by Arvo Pärt.

Working Out Loud


It’s time…

I have followed John Stepper and his “Working Out Loud” program for a couple of years now. It makes sense to me.  When I was still working at Deutsche Bank, I was privileged enough to read a pre-release pdf version of his book (the art of Working Out Loud in its purest form — Thanks John!).  I knew he was onto something.

Ever since, I have tried my best to promote the movement but haven’t actually done anything meaningful about it.  Sure, you can talk about it, you can try to support, mention it in passing to your friends etc., even get quite passionate about it after a couple of beers, but all of that is passive and not very fulfilling.

So.. I finally resolved to make the first step.

What happened?

I sat down at my Mac last Saturday morning anticipating the long holiday weekend (Monday Feb 08 was Chinese New Year holiday — a holiday in Manila) and decided to set up a personal website where I could begin to narrate my work. It was surprisingly easy to do.

For the first time in a long time, I actually had fun. The hours melted away as I tweaked the new site.  (I’ll write more about that experience in another post).

After buying the latest Kindle version of John’s book… and rereading it – pretty-much in one session – I logged into and downloaded the Linchpin Toolkit and the latest Circle Guides which I printed on Tuesday afternoon.

By Thursday, after reading through the material, I had chatted to some of the staff at work and identified the members who will form the first “Circle”.  Everybody is “in”.. all twelve meetings are now being scheduled.

And next week, the journey begins.

Stay tuned.

Software Testing


Delivering good news is easy

However, people who test software for a living need to do one thing really well – and that is:

have the uncompromising ability to deliver bad news.

And there are lots of really dedicated folks out there who do just that.  But there are also some who often mean well, but bend to real (or perceived) management pressure and compromise.  A deadline after all, is a deadline!

By “managing the message” – i.e. avoiding red RAG status events – Quality Assurance Managers often lull stakeholders into a false sense of security.  This can result in different types of unsavory scenarios, it does wonders for lowering overall team morale (who more often than not know the real story) and it wastes time and money.

How often have we seen elaborate test strategies degenerate into last-minute scrambling as integration and acceptance-testing cycles shrink and are pushed out to the right due to dirty data, broken functionality and environment issues? It’s a cycle that’s tough to break – but it needs to be broken.

Use The Force

Testing needs to be given the attention and recognition it deserves.  Just because it appears at the end of the food chain doesn’t mean that it’s not vitally important.

Tollgates that restrict movement of functionality from Development to System Integration Testing (SIT) through to Functional and User Acceptance Testing (UAT) and final implementation need to be strictly observed and deadlines that inevitably shorten cycle times need to be flexible enough to accommodate doing what is right, not just what is allowed.  On paper it’s all very simple, but in practice it requires conviction, courage and resolve.

Releasing untested code into UAT – or worse into Production – should be avoided. “Conditional Sign-offs” at the end of the day mean very little (as everybody ultimately forgets the conditions and only remembers the sign-off). Once bad code is implemented, operational “workarounds” are inevitable and extra work to plug the holes often prevails. Succeeding releases are delayed while bugs from the earlier release are being rectified and the vicious cycle deepens.

Over time, these workarounds are often baked-in to normal day-to-day operations and are accepted as common practice.  They linger sometimes for years; users work longer hours and overall cost increases.


Once your company has adopted an agreed testing approach and standard terminology, changing the language to suit the level of tested code only leads to confusion. Where I worked, there was no such thing as “Pre-UAT” – the correct terminology was “SIT”. “Functional Acceptance Testing” may as well have been called “Failure Acceptance Testing” because that’s all that was really happening.  Don’t allow any re-branding – this only serves to mask the real issue.

So the next time you see a quantum shift in the project RAG status – have a word with the testing team; check the Traceability Matrix to make sure that all requirements bases are covered and make sure the users are happy with all testing results.  It can save you a lot of money in the long run.

For those interested in the complexities of Software Testing – you should check out the wiki page.

Photo: Courtesy of Google Images


108010The “Pareto Principle” is well-known..  It’s the “80-20 Rule”.  But how many have heard of the “10-80-10 Rule”?

10-80-10 was a source of much amusement when I was working at an Investment Bank in the mid-Eighties.

Our version went something like this:

In any company, 10 percent of the people do the work; 80 percent of the people do nothing; the last 10 percent stop the first 10 percent from finishing anything.

And in some companies, I’m sure it’s still true today.