Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Aedificamus: Book Review: The Science of Yoga

When I made a commitment to lose weight, get back into shape, and take control of my aging process, I had to come to grips with the fact that years of weight lifting had left some parts of my body in less than optimal condition (yes, elbows, I’m looking at you). Finding exercise I could do that would be effective, help develop strength, flexibility, & endurance, and overall not exacerbate issues I already have, friends encouraged me to look into yoga.

I’d long eschewed yoga because of the tendency of people to put a lot of “woo” into it. As a software tester, I’m a professional skeptic. The pronouncements around yoga had long been high on spiritual and cosmic wonders, touted as a cure all for everything from depression to cancer. Also, I’m comically non-flexible, so I figured this was just not for me. Over time, though, I decided to try it, and in the course of a few months, I saw some marked improvements in my physique and strength, but also in my overall mood. In short, I felt great, and yoga practice had a hand in that. But still, come on, all these goofy claims… isn’t there someone out there willing to take on the topic and do a MythBusters on the “woo” of yoga?

Turns out that, yes,  there is.

William J. Broad is a lead Science writer for the New York Times, so he has the skeptical science part down. He’s also a long time yoga practitioner, starting his practice back in 1970. He, too, was curious about many of the claims, and decided it was time to examine the history and scientific research. The Science of Yoga delivers on its title, in that is investigates, objectively, the benefits and the detrimental aspects of yoga.

Yoga is a fascinating culture. It’s both ancient and totally modern, deeply tied to ancient Indus Valley history and practiced for millennia, and it is the hip go-to cultural balm for our busy times today. It’s steeped in Hindu tradition, and actively used by those with no understanding whatsoever of its long history or spiritual connection. It ties together isometric physical training, breathing, meditation, focus and body manipulation into a fully systemic training approach. It’s adherents can approach the subject with a reverence bordering on hagiography. Broad does his best to be objective, skeptical, and play by the book, but at times even he admits that what science has studies and objectively reported on doesn’t entirely add up with the combined experience of its adherents, including himself.

The book is broken up into several sections, addressing the history of yoga, and really only covering a small slice of the yoga experience. Each section takes on a bit of the history surrounding claims, including anecdotes and historical references to writings and studies done in India, Europe and the U.S. & Canada. He then shows where scientific studies have been performed (or not), the limitations of said studies and shortcomings, as well as where findings are contradicted or confounded by everyday practice. While Broad makes the point early on that science does not have all the answers, it corroborates more than it refutes.

Several broad chapters look at specific areas like overall health & fitness, weight loss & metabolism, mood & psychological health, risk of injury & healing properties, sexual health & performance, and creativity. The short answer is that there is some hard science behind many of these aspects, and in many cases, the science backs up many of yogas claims. It also debunks a fair number of them, but not without accompanying controversy. Yoga is touted as a way to get yourself slim and toned because it boosts your metabolism. Science shows that the opposite is true, it actually slows metabolism, but in that slowing, it also helps the body recover and heal in ways that would be unlikely in the absence of yoga. This seems to be the cadence of the book. There are claims, science either supports or refutes the claim, but in the process, something about the refutation supports another aspect as to why that benefit occurs. Many questions are answered, but just as many fresh questions arise.

One of the chapters in the book deals with injuries, and for a discipline that prides itself on being very safe, yes, you can certainly hurt yourself doing yoga. Having said that, the number of injuries compared to other activities, including being sedentary, pales in comparison to the overall benefits. Plus, most injuries can heal, and an alteration of one’s routine are all that is needed to avoid such injuries in the future.

Added to the chapters is a list of who’s who in the history of yoga, a chronology of developments, discoveries and explorations, and a lengthy bibliography and end notes that adds close to a hundred pages to the core text.

Bottom Line:

"The Science of Yoga" answers a number of questions, and raises many more. Broad makes clear that science is a discipline that observes data and outcomes, and reports on the results. In many cases, claims do not hold up, but while debunking one myth, a discovery shows where yoga is getting it right, and opens up avenues to new ideas and new studies. This book scratched both my skeptical itch and my exploratory yearning itch at the same time. It made me feel more aware of the realities, but just as excited about the possibilities. If the idea of getting under the mystical layers of yoga intrigue you, and you like the idea of putting claims to the test and seeing where those tests lead, or may lead, then “The Science of Yoga” is an enjoyable read.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

How Do I Work This?

It's another year end, and another chance to come back to the Talking Heads song "Once in a Lifetime", since I feel it to be an apt metaphor for this blog, as well as the past couple of years of growth, change, learning, unlearning, accomplishments and frustrations, steps and mis-steps, and all of the other things that come with being a software tester in a changing software world.

I celebrated five years of Testhead this year, and passed 1,000 blog posts. I also had an opportunity to expand my blogging to some additional areas, including a stint with IT Knowledge exchange and the Uncharted Waters blog. As with many things, times, priorities and situations change, and I wrote my last blog post for Uncharted Waters back in November. It was a good run, and I thank ITKE, Matt Heusser and Justin Rohrman for letting me offer my perspectives on a few things this past year.

This was "The Year of Accessibility" as Albert Gareev and I decided we would combine our efforts and work on talks, test ideas, workshops, presentations, and a stretch goal of preparing a treatment of a book about Accessibility testing. I am happy to say we made some great steps in that direction. we both delivered several talks at various local testing groups, as well as national and international conferences. We proposed and collaborated on ways to present the materials, and we introduced two mnemonics related to accessibility testing (HUMBLE and PaSaRan). We did not complete the treatment for the book, at least, we have not completed it yet. Part of it was time and other things getting in the way, but for me it was also the discovery of and a developing interest in the parallel discipline of Inclusive Design, which I think can be an excellent addition to the discussion Accessibility Development and Testing. 2016 will see me branching into other areas to talk about, but rest assured, this is a labor of love for both of us, and you will see plenty more from us on this topic in 2016 (that is, if Albert wants to keep going with this; I'll not presume to speak for him ;) ).

This year saw many personal changes, most sparked by one defining factor. In April, I said goodbye to Ken Pier, my director, my mentor, and my good friend. He died of cancer, and he left a hole in our testing team that we are still recovering from. After several months of searching, we found another tester to join our team, but we did not replace Ken. We cannot replace him. We can only carry on, while keeping his legacy and influence alive. Part of that meant we chose to integrate our testing team with the broader engineering group. We all report to the VP of Engineering, and we all are "developers" on the same team. In addition, I've taken on the responsibility of being the release manager for the company, which has required some "interesting" lessons in the realities of software development, continuous delivery, continuous deployment and continuous testing, and the limitations that corporate entities may require to make these systems work. In short, this year saw me step into more of a "specializing generalist" role, and to spread into more development initiatives than I had been involved with before. If I thought I was ignorant on software delivery concepts before, it's been made abundantly clear just how much i still need to learn.

This change, and the necessities of the demands of work, required that take a hard look at the things that I could effectively do, as well as the things I could not do any longer. After four years of involvement, I stepped down from involvement as part the Board of Directors for the Association for Software Testing. I did this for a number of reasons. First was the demands of work and home were making it less possible for me to deliver on what I felt the organization should do. I would rather say I cannot do something than say "yes" and not deliver. Sadly, I saw more of the latter happening than I wanted to. Additionally, I feel that organizations are not well served when people become "too comfortable" and "too entrenched". We as people stop growing, and the organization loses out on new ideas and innovations that others can provide. I am still actively involved with AST, both as an instructor and, going into 2016, as what I hope will be more of a content provider role as we develop new materials to supplement current classes and, we hope, create brand new ones.

One area that I have likewise addressed, and has been a big part of my life for the past few months, is a focus on my personal health, and a change of habits that I became determined was necessary. The deaths of two coworkers within the past year, both from the same condition, and one I have genetic markers for, have made it a priority with some urgency for me. Many of my posts have been written around fitness, health, and using software testing principles to re-create myself. For some of you, that's been a nice addition to this blog. For others, probably an annoyance ;). Still, it's part of my learning, and I think much of what I have learned has relevance to testing and discovery, so I will continue to talk about and post those items here. I will, however, be making a slight change going forward. From now on, when you see a post with the word "Aedificamus" in it, know that that post likely has something to do with health, fitness, food or some other learning on my journey to get and stay as healthy as possible. Aedificamus is Latin and, loosely translated, means "rebuilding through practice".

As I bring this year to a close, sometimes I wonder if people still consider this blog relevant, or if what I write has had an impact for other testers out there. Needless to say, I was both humbled and gratified to hear Brent Jensen and Alan Page both mention the TESTHEAD blog as one of their picks for 2015 on the A/B Testing podcast. It was really touching to hear Brent say that he appreciated that I was learning about, and publishing as I went along, the changing landscape of software testing, and where I felt my role in it might lie both currently and in the future. Some years ago, I did an extended review of 'How We Test Software at Microsoft" and I recall Alan Page writing about how he appreciated that I "got it", that I understood ultimately what he and his co-writers were trying to say. For me, it's my turn to return the favor. Thank you, Alan and Brent. thank you for "getting" TESTHEAD, and thank you so much for the shout out in your year in review podcast. I am proud to have you at the top of my list of alphabetically ordered favorite podcasts ;).

This year requires a lot of thanks to a lot of people, some of which I have mentioned already, but additionally I want to say thank you to Erik Davis, Markus Gaertner, Keith Klain, Alessandra Moreira, Justin Rohrman and Pete Walen, my fellow Board of Directors members with AST for the 2014-2015 year term. Thank you for your support during my year as President, and all of your help and encouragement along the way. Additionally, thank you to Ben Yaroch for being an advisor, for letting me know when I was doing something good, as well as when I was doing something stupid. I appreciated the advice every time, even if I did or did not always act on it. My thanks also to Ilari Aegeter,  Alex Bantz, Roxanne Jackson and Eric Proegler for stepping in this year and becoming Board Members to keep the work moving forward. I love the energy you all bring, and I am excited to see what we all do next. My thanks to Justin Rohrman (again), Albert Gareev (again) and JeanAnn Harrison for your continued efforts along with me to facilitate Weekend Testing Americas. We celebrated our fifth anniversary this year, and I am happy to say we are still going strong, thanks in no small part to your efforts. My thanks also to Matt Heusser for his willingness to include me on a variety of projects and to always be a springboard and feedback for ideas both well formed and, sometimes, in need of considerable polishing. I look forward to many more opportunities to keep storming the castle. Thank you Josh Meier and Curtis Stuehrenberg for working with me to keep Bay Area Software Testers a thing. We have a lot of software testing talent in the Bay Area, I want to see that talent grow and us help that process. There's lots to do :). Finally, my thanks to everyone who listened to me speak, participated in a class, joined a weekend testing session, came to a meetup, or read and shared a blog post of mine throughout this year. Thank you for making 2015 a great year for me, and here's looking forward to 2016. I'm curious to see what the title will be next year ;).

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Aedificamus: "What's Your Secret?" is Really "How Did *You* Do It?"

It all started with a picture. Specifically, this one:

It's a picture of me, hunched over on the couch, holding an at the time tiny kitten. I can make excuses all I want (bad angle, bad posture, etc.), but this picture was the moment when I finally said "Enough!!!"

I have a mental image of myself. This size, and these dimensions, are not it. I made a commitment I would turn this around on August 14, 2015. We were at a celebratory dinner for my son's 19th birthday. When we came home, I weighed myself and about screamed when I saw I was 260 pounds!

Four months and a few days later, my daughter took another picture. Specifically, this one:

This picture was taken Saturday, December 19, 2015, after a day strolling around the Dickens Faire. Having bought new clothes a couple days earlier, and having tipped the scale at 205 pounds that morning, I felt a little celebratory, and wanted to record the moment. Along with other pictures, I posted this one as a way to say "here's what I've done so far, and I still have quite a ways to go."

 I received a number of comments, and a few people asking "what's your secret?". 

As I've pointed out many times, there is no secret other than "do more and eat less", but I want to thank my friend Adam Yuret for, amusingly, pointing something out to me. He said that, as a consultant, he is often asked by clients to share "secrets of success". Were he to answer them with "there are no secrets, just hard work and execution",  the result would be he would have angry clients. They want to have something to grab on to, something that will help them know that, this time, they will succeed. You may know different, you may know there's no magic bullets, but they aren't asking you for a talisman... they are asking "How did you get from Point A to Point B?"

Another friend sent me a message asking a similar question, i.e. "what's your secret", but they made it clear in the message that what they really wanted to know was "what is your system?" They could see I'm doing something that is working, but could I give them some more details about what I chose to do, and why, so they could see it in a broader context? That is absolutely a fair question, and yes, by going back and reviewing the past four months data I have accumulated, I realized I do have a "system". It's not elegant or clean, but I can offer some thoughts on what I have been able to do and learn over the past four months. 

Some of this is going to seem very elementary, and some of this might sound a bit... odd. Nevertheless, after going back and reviewing what I've actually done, here's the system that has brought me to this point in time, with the caveat that what has worked in the past may not work in the future, and it may not work as well for anyone else.

Pick an Activity Goal That is Easy to Remember and Accomplish

I made a commitment to "Walk 10,000 Steps Each Day". Regardless of any other activity I may do, that's the one I treat as a mantra.

For those curious, this goal is cumulative, and you can do a surprising amount of walking just in your every day activities. 10,000 steps is roughly five miles, and an hour and forty minutes of total walking. Since I commute by train, I've worked into my daily commute most of those steps. When you make your exercise part of your daily routine and integrate it into things like your commute, that helps keep it consistent.

I should also add that I allow myself one break day each week, usually Sunday. I'm LDS, and as such, I try to not do certain things on the Sabbath. It's a personal decision, and one that I have found I get great benefit from when I follow it. If I am out for a day with my family after church, and I happen to cover 10,000 steps, I don't get too bent out of shape over it. In general, though, I let myself have that day where I don't specifically train. That chance to rest, I feel, is critical to keep focused the other six days to let me go full force. Often, I will go a little further, say 12,000 steps, on the six days so that I still have an every day average of 10,000 or more.

Focus on Variety in Your Activity, Do What Works and is Engaging, Drop What Isn't or Hurts

I think it's important to have a variety of stimulus to get moving and keep moving. Over the course of four months, I have done weight training, calisthenics, body weight exercises, used resistance devices, played a variety of sports, pulled my Dance Dance Revolution games and dance pads out of the closet, and taken up yoga. Some of these activities have had to be curtailed or modified because of joint pains or prior injuries that I am still recovering from. If something hurts, or I am genuinely just not into it, I will find something else to do. What I do is not as important as the fact that I do something, and do it each training day. This is in addition to the 10,000 steps, although I do sometimes combine my 10,000 steps when I play DDR. When I do that, I split the difference calorie wise, which brings me to...

Get a Good Gauge on The Exercise Calories You Expend, In All Categories

This is not as straightforward as many people think, as calorie expenditures for exercises, and the use of trackers like FitBit, etc. are often normalized over the course of a day. Some activities that seem fairly straightforward and mellow have huge calorie counts, and those where we feel we are putting a lot into don't register very much. Yes, exercise burns calories, but not near as much as we think it does. We also eat more calories than we give ourselves credit for, so counting calories honestly and dependably is important, and needs to be done daily. Check this calculator out to get an idea as to how much certain activities measure up in total calories burned.

A Key Value: BMR + 200

Learn your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR), and understand that it will change as you lose weight. Your BMR is what you would burn in calories even if you were to stay in bed all day and do absolutely nothing. Your heart, lungs, brain, kidneys, stomach, muscles, bones, and every cell in your body needs to be nourished, oxygenated and replenished. That process is energy demanding. Based on your height, weight, age and gender, you can determine what your BMR is at any given time. Here's a calculator you can use to get started.

When I started this process, my BMR was 2,304 calories each day. Today, at 205, my BMR is 1,961 calories each day. Yep, down by 343 calories. The key here is regularly keep checking in on your BMR. Eat up to the level of your CURRENT BMR, plus maybe 200 additional calories for good measure. Check in weekly to determine where your BMR is, and adjust your caloric intake appropriately. Trust me, you will still lose weight because...

Subtract Your Activity Calories from Your Daily Calorie Budget

Your additional activities above and beyond BMR are subtracted from your daily needs. Put simply, "DO NOT EAT BACK YOUR EXERCISE CALORIES". If you have a BMR of 2,000 calories a day, eat 2,200 calories for good measure. Then exercise, work out, go for a walk, do yoga, clean the house, do yard work, play baseball, be a jungle gym for your kids, whatever. Figure out the caloric expenditure of these activities (a FitBit may be helpful here, or some other device, or use the calculator above or an app that has calorie tracking, but again, it will still be an approximation). Subtract those expended calories from your daily BMR+200. If you find yourself going into a fully negative deficit, meaning you exercised more than you actually ate that day, then by all means eat more, but generally determine to not eat back exercise calories. Remember that 3500 calories is the equivalent of one pound of fat, so you need to be running that level of a deficit to actually burn that fat away. 7000 calories is roughly two pounds of fat, and that is a good goal to target each week because...

Pick a Target You Can Commit To, Such as Two Pounds a Week

In the mid 1980's, I was taught that two pounds a week was a good max number because anything beyond that would start catabolizing muscle. I now know a bit more, and understand that no matter what you do, you will burn some muscle in the process of burning bodyfat, just as you will build more muscle if you are willing to accept some extra bodyfat deposits in the process. Also, there's a fair amount of fluctuation with water weight that can cause you to go up or down by several pounds.

The key thing to remember is that your body is very aware of what is happening to it. The human body doesn't care about fashion, vanity or self expression. It cares about survival. It is optimized for that express purpose. We have to work with it so that we don't convince it that we are in a famine, or that we are facing severe trauma. For me, that has meant trying to not be too severe with my weight loss. Additionally, two pounds a week is a good target simply because of mathematics; losing more than that is just plain hard in terms of calorie restriction and time to exercise. Two pounds a week is doable for me. Your mileage may vary.  See this article for a good explanation for the number, why some can do more and why it's not an absolute value.

Be Prepared to Change What and How You Eat, Perhaps Drastically

As part of my process, I developed an approach of "eat it whole, eat it raw, eat it unprocessed, as much as possible". This has meant, generally, that most processed foods I have enjoyed eating (chips, cereals, pasta, packaged bread products, crackers, cookies, soda, juices, condiments, etc.) are no longer a regular part of my diet. That doesn't mean I never eat them, but they are an exception, whereas before it was more the rule. In their place, I tend to eat fresh fruit (raw or from frozen); raw or simply cooked vegetables (again, typically fresh or from frozen); smaller amounts and greater varieties of meats, including eggs; high quality oils, typically in the form of either pressed oils or from nuts; milk products, typically in soft cheeses, yogurt and kefir. I also purchase a protein supplement to help make sure I'm getting enough protein each day. The fiber in fresh fruits and vegetables fills me up to the point that I don't feel the need to eat all the time. I include grains like wheat, rice or oats, but I eat them preferably as unprocessed as possible. I like getting the full berries (red wheat, bulgur, teff, barley, groats, quinoa, amaranth, etc.) and cooking them in a rice cooker (yes, it works the same way, although it needs more water and takes a little longer). Key here is I do not eschew any particular food items, but I try my best to keep them balanced and consume them in a way that my body can reap the most nutritional benefit.

No matter what, though, I find that I have an occasional craving for something sweet and a need to chew something, and vegetables ain't gonna cut it. In these moments, I do have a secret weapon, and that's sugarless chewing gum. Seriously, I chew a lot of gum! I also tend to drink about two liters of water a day.

One thing to point out is that eating clean (meaning focusing on fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, oils, etc.) can be pricy. On average, I spend $50 a week on food. That does not include meat or other miscellaneous food items. With that in mind, sometimes I have to make economic choices with what I choose to eat. My optimal choice may not always be practical. Fresh is best. Frozen is a good second option, with the benefit that there are no "aspirational frozen vegetables" (they can keep for several weeks in the freezer, and they are often considerably less expensive than buying fresh). Dried would be next (think beans, rice, minimally processed fruits, etc.). I will eat canned food if I absolutely must, but only after a good rinsing because...

Wild Fluctuations With Weight? Hello Sodium, My Frenemy!

Sodium is part of the canning and pickling process, and sodium can be awful to the process of losing weight, especially if you are one to check your weight every day (which, I should mention, I do). It is not uncommon to reach a new low, then spike three pounds, drop two pounds, jump up two pounds again, drop four pounds and then settle at a new low. What is going on?! Days when I see these wild spikes and dips, I can almost guarantee it was because I ate at a restaurant or otherwise didn't have the option to prepare my own food, and excess salt was part of that meal.

Sodium is insidious, it's in just about everything. Don't get me wrong, sodium is important. We'd die without it, but most of us get way too much of it, and definitely more than the potassium we should be consuming to help balance it out. Within 48 hours, most of that weight is gone, usually because I consume enough water to dilute it out, or I increase the concentration of potassium in my system to do the same (bananas are my friend... no, seriously, I love bananas specifically for this purpose). Either way, if you notice that you have suddenly put on a bunch of weight in a day, and you are struggling to figure out why, some of it could be fat deposition, some of it is additional mass in the digestive tract (totally normal and expected), but a good amount of it is water binding due to sodium being a greedy element.

In most of my recipes I do not use salt because I typically don't need to; there's plenty there already. Using it as a flavor enhancer is fine, but be sure you are aware of how much you use and consume, and be prepared the next day when the scale spikes. It'll go away in a day or two.

Pick a Macronutrient Breakdown You Can Live With

Bring balance to what you eat, in the way that makes the most sense. My approach may make sense for you, or it may not. There's lots of mitigating circumstances you have to consider. Health conditions, moral choices, religious considerations, etc. may require you do do different things. Again, being LDS, I do have a couple of food restrictions I choose to follow. Food items and beverages derived from coffee beans and black/green/white tea are not part of my diet. I also do not drink anything with alcohol in it. Outside of those, I consider myself an overall omnivore, with a love for food from all over the world. I've often referred to myself as "utilitarian" when it comes to food. I respect those who choose to be various levels of vegetarian/vegan, and I experiment with recipes in that vein to see what I can do, and often go considerable stretches where I don't eat any meat at all, but I find it overall helpful to my diet and goals, so I keep it as a component, albeit considerably reduced from my prior eating habits before August.

I've experimented with several different nutrient profiles, and the one I like best and find most effective is based on the Zone Diet. I strive to get a gram of protein per lean pound of body weight each day. From there, I aim to get 30% of my calories from protein, 30% from fats, and 40% from carbs. Sometimes I switch the protein and carb percentages (40% protein, 30% carbs, 30% fats).

Regardless of the method, you need to consume less than you burn to create a deficit, and you need to create a long term deficit to have a major impact on fat burning. That is the same regardless of the breakdown you choose to use. Another way I like to help stack this is I use a challenge template that's run at LoseIt regarding fruits and vegetables. Every day, I aim to get 225 calories from fresh or frozen fruit. Additionally, I also aim to get 200 calories from fresh or frozen vegetables. The fruit calories are easy to meet. The vegetable calories, depending on what you choose, might take some doing. Added to that, I try to make a point of varying what I eat whenever possible, so as to get a broad cross section of fruits, vegetables, meats, oils, etc. and also get a broad spectrum of vitamins and minerals in the process. I also take a cheap daily multi-vitamin to cover my bases.

Get Help From an "Accountability Partner"

Find a support system to help you through the process of losing weight and training. Have an accountability partner, preferably one you are not married or otherwise related to. Our families love us, they really do. They can be our biggest cheerleaders, but they can also be our worst saboteurs, often at the same time and have no idea they are doing that. When you have a dispassionate accountability partner, those issues mostly go away. Your accountability partner can be electronic (apps, spreadsheets, training diaries, etc.) or they can be real people you interact with, in person or virtually. I have found a nice balance. I use electronic means, using apps like Pacer for step data, LoseIt for calories, and FitStar for workouts/training, plus I have a BlueTooth scale that integrates with LoseIt that tracks weight, BMI, body fat percentage and hydration levels (though the last two seem to be related in a strange counter symbiosis, and are not really reliable, but that's another topic ;) ).

Additionally, the Social community within LoseIt has been terrific for me. I take advantage of a variety of challenges that occur within LoseIt, and I am a greedy collector of "badges". It makes the quest fun, and it keeps me looking forward rather than behind. Challenges also give you a chance to cheer on others, and let them cheer you on as well. You can certainly train on your own, but having a support system can be tremendously helpful, especially if you check in regularly.

Having said all of that, this is work. It takes time, dedication, and commitment, and will require it for a long time, not just for the duration to lose the weight, but for the time that follows so that you stay diligent and keep the weight off.

I should also mention that this "system" as described was derived over the course of four months, with the idea that I would tweak some small thing each week. Taken in its entirety, were I to say I was going to do everything outlined here on day one, I would probably have given up. This represents a major paradigm shift in the way I ate and exercised, but I made small incremental changes along the way. Consider it "Agile Dieting and Conditioning", where very small changes made regularly brings you to a totally different place months down the road, but the individual changes were so small and so frequent that they were nearly imperceptible. I would suggest anyone looking to make major changes to their lifestyle do something similar. Don't try to reinvent yourself all in one go. Let yourself experiment with small changes, be open to learning what works for you and keeps you engaged, and make small tweaks on a regular basis. I think "a tweak a week" is a good pace.

Another important consideration is "your body is adaptable". What works at one point in time can stop working later. Plateaus happen. Reversals happen. You will get tired. You will get frustrated. You will get angry. You will get invited to events where you decide to chuck your willpower and self control. It happens. We're human. The best advice I've received, and the advice I frequently give myself and others when this happens, is courtesy my friend and accountability partner Pat over at LoseIt...

"Own It... Log It... and Move On!"

If there is any "secret" in all of this, that statement is it. That's the magic. It's the magic of mindfulness, the secret is owning this process and being wholly responsible for success. When we do well, celebrate. When we backslide, acknowledge and learn. When we discover something doesn't work any longer, adapt. Regardless of what it is, good or bad, euphoric or frustrating, enlightening or damning, "own it, log it, and move on".

I'm not perfect by any means, but I know how this feels, and that is often a big help to others. Start your journey, and let me know if I can be of any help along the way. Likewise, I still have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep ;).

Monday, December 21, 2015

Aedificamus: The Inelegance of Achieving Goals

Below is a picture I look at almost every day. I've watched this picture grow since August 30, 2015. It's a graph, with a definite trend, but it's not clean, it's not elegant, and it tells a lot about reality and challenges, disappointments and elation, setbacks and moving forward.

That graph is what weight loss looks like. Often, we see charts that show a straight line from Point A to Point B. That's because they take the start value and the finish value, and then plot it over the total time. It's accurate, but only partially. What is missed is everything that happens in between. The initial drop that gets us motivated, followed by reversals, sometimes the very next day. Sometimes we have plateaus, sometimes, no matter what we do, we get spikes upward that seem to make no sense. We get tired. We get sick. We become demotivated. We lapse. We then weigh in, get frustrated, redouble our efforts, and then start the process all over again.

The reason the map is jagged comes from the fact I made a commitment to weigh myself every day. There's one exception to that rule; while I was in Potsdam for Agile Testing Days, I didn't have access to a scale. That meant that, for seven days, I could not weigh myself to see what was happening. When I got back and weighed in, I had gained two pounds. A setback, to be sure, but being at a conference half way around the world, with its crazy hours and no ability to make my own food for the duration, I was OK with that. The long flat rise in the graph reflects that time, and I can see it for what it is, and what it represents.

December is a perfect storm of a month. My daughter, wife and I all celebrated birthdays within a week of each other. My wife and I also celebrate our wedding anniversary in this same week. As we lead up to the Christmas Holiday and all the numerous other celebrations that come together during December, it is ridiculously easy to see dramatic changes in progress. I can pinpoint every celebratory meal and event that caused the spikes, and each drop that occurred after I got back to my regular habits and practices.

The green line at the bottom is my end goal. By the time I reach it, I will have lost a total of seventy five pounds, I will have a BMI that doesn't categorize me as overweight, and I am aiming for a bodyfat percentage somewhere around 15%. Less would be great, but I can happily live with 15%. I still have a third of the poundage left to lose, and the journey is getting harder the closer I get to the goal. Even then, once I hit the goal, then the real challenge starts, that of keeping my weight at the target long term. I've dropped weight before, but I've not been successful in keeping it off. I am trying to make this time be different.

It strikes me that this process is similar to most of the goals we set. If taken in their entirety, they can feel overwhelming and impossible. The time commitment and dedication required can deflate even the most enthusiastic. This time around, I decided to recruit some help and reinforcement. The first was electronic, in the way of fitness and nutrition apps that helped me plot a course, figure out small changes I could make, and over the course of several months, try out what worked best for me. Some ideas are simple and almost mantra like, such as "get 10,000 steps every day". Some required me evaluating my age and some aches and pains I can't avoid, but rather than being macho and "work through the pain" I adapted what I did so I could work around and deal with the pain proactively. Later, when I lost a bit of weight, or gained strength doing something else, I was able to go back to the areas I was less comfortable with or at the time hurt too much to be effective, and was able to be effective at that point. Little changes, small victories. 

Additionally, I have been bolstered by people that I do not personally know, but who have been tremendously helpful along this journey. I have vacillated on this in the past, but I am becoming more convinced that accountability partners are important, and in some situations, the less emotionally attached you are to those accountability partners, the better. When we are emotionally attached to our accountability partners, we are more likely to forgive lapses, both in ourselves and in them. I don't have that same level of connection with my LoseIt friends, and in a way, I think that's a strength. To be fair, they have been nothing but supportive and wonderful, so I am not saying this as a way to say these people are distant. In fact, I feel like I've grown to know them pretty well. It's just that this is the context in which I know them, the context of losing weight and exercising, so I feel more inclined to bring my best to my interactions. Same goes to my interactions with coding and testing initiatives. I'm likely to give more of my focus and attention to those who both understand the domain I am in, but are not "too close" to me.

As I stare down the twenty plus pounds remaining, I am reminded yet again that no goal worth attaining is ever easy, and that setbacks are how we learn. If it were easy, everyone would achieve it. My thanks to all who find this journey remotely interesting. Even if you do not, but you still spend time to read this blog and message me from time to time, thank you. You all help keep me going :).  

Monday, December 14, 2015

Does the Agile Testing Process Work? - A #BAST Lean Beer Summary (1/5)

On Thursday, December 10, 2015, the Bay Area Software Testers Meetup Group got together and held its quarterly Lean Beer event. Lean Beer is the "evening equivalent" of Lean Coffee, where individuals come together and discuss topics of interest in a loose format. Topics are proposed, the participants vote on the topic that most interest them, and the topics are ranked based on the votes they receive.

Each topic gets a set time to be discussed and at the end of the time, a vote is made to see if the discussion should be continued. if majority votes to continue, more time is added to the clock and the discussion continues. If the votes indicate energy has been depleted for that topic, we close it off and move on to the next one.

We covered five topics at our most recent event, and based on the feedback, and as a point of reference for the members of the BAST Meetup that couldn't attend, these are summaries of what was discussed.

The top vote recipient, and therefore the first topic we discussed, was the "Agile Testing Process", or more to the point, "is there such a thing"? For several of the attendees, it seemed that the Agile Development process worked, but that testing was still treated as an after the fact activity. Isn't the point of Agile software development supposed to be that information about the product is discovered quickly, feedback received, and the ability to deliver software faster is primarily to make better quality software available?

Included in these questions is also the changes that many have witnessed at their respective companies as to not just how software development has changed, but how software testing at those companies has changed as well. For some companies, there is not a dedicated test team any longer, at least not one with a separate reporting structure. The idea of a separate test team and test manager has given way to having an integrated team of programmers and testers working together as much as possible, or to having test be an activity rather than a separate role.

Regardless of the team structure, testing is meant to happen, but how that testing is performed or who does it is open to debate. For those of us who work as testers in our given organizations, our efforts are often spread among various initiatives. Some of us focus most of our efforts on exploration, some of us are primarily working on automation. Some of us have the ability to get into the story writing process early, via the Three Amigos approach, and can apply our testing efforts early on during the requirements stage. Here, we are able to provoke requirements and provide thoughtful analysis and add value by helping see what aspects we need to consider up front before development even starts.

One of the comments that most of us agreed with is that having a dedicated (as in, involved) product owner made a considerable difference. Unit tests and Test Driven Development can be a big help towards designing a product that meets the requirements set forth by the stories. Having a system in place that allows for the software to be built and deployed in a timely manner can be a tremendous help to the process. Automation is important here, but more so to eliminating busywork and pushing things around than actually providing core testing. There is still a need for meaningful testing and applying testing skills to these stories, and part of that involvement is having the discipline to focus on just those stories that can be done in a particular sprint.