Friday, October 29, 2010

TWIST #18: From Vegas With "LOVE"

Sorry for being so quiet this week. I think this is the first time I've gone a week between posts. Just a lot going on at work and I'm just feeling really, well, exhausted. On the TWiST front, though, we decided to start playing with the idea of doing some extra stuff, especially since we have so many audio clips to play with. It's not realistic to put together multiple podcasts with all content, nor is it good to have them be stretched out for months to the point where they lose their relevancy,so we've decided to star something we're calling TWiST-Plus. This is a platform to put those little pieces together and have them be coherent elements as worthy of downloading and listening to as the TWiST podcasts are, and I produced my first working version this week. Note: it hasn't been posted yet, but when it is, I'll give the link to the STP site URL. 'Til then, please check it out here. It's a talk from Adam Goucher comparing the Golden Age of Pirate and today's Agile Development Methods and teams.

For today's episode, Matt went to STPCON at the Mirage in Las Vegas. While he was there, he interviewed Rich Hand, who is the lead guy in the rebranding of Software Test Profgessionals. They talked about the conference and the many presentations and opportunities to help promote STP's vision of "community driven" testing knowledge development.

For those who want to check it out, here is Episode #18.

Standard disclaimer:

Each podcast is free for 30 days, but you have to be a basic member to access it. After 30 days, you have to have a Pro Membership to access it, so either head on over quickly (depending on when you see this) or consider upgrading to a Pro membership so that you can get to the podcasts and the entire library whenever you want to :). In addition, Pro membership allows you to access and download to the entire archive of Software Test and Quality Assurance Magazine, and its issues under its former name, Software Test and Performance.

Again, my thanks to STP for hosting the podcasts and storing the archive. We hope you enjoy listening to them as much as we enjoy making them :).

Friday, October 22, 2010

TWIST # 17: Going Down Under Again to Discuss Homegrown Automation

Wow, talk about a whirlwind! This was the fastest I’ve yet turned around an episode (I was going to say “ever” but really, is three months a long enough time to be discussing “ever”?). This was, of course, prompted by necessity; I was to leave for the Pacific Northwest Software Quality Conference in the early morning hours on Sunday (2:30 AM, to be exact… I chose to drive this time because, well, I’m kinda’ weird like that, and I thought it would be fun). Plus, it gave me the flexibility to visit friends I otherwise wouldn’t be able to see on the way back. The point is, I’m getting the hang of turning these things and, well, learning to be a little less “precise” when it comes to editing. What do I mean by that? I mean I am becoming more willing to keep a more natural flow for the conversation, even if it means a stray “umm” or stutter gets left in there. If it’s a standalone, those are easy to pull, but some are run together so closely that pulling them out makes the conversation sound like it’s on “auto-tune”, i.e. the opposite of natural.

So today, Matt goes down under once again to talk with Australian located tester Marlena Compton, New Zealand's Oliver Erlewein, and TWiST’s New Zealand producer Farid Vaswani. The conversation covered a number of interesting topics, but the core of the talk centered on abandoning the hype of mass market automation and focusing on the more home grown aspects of automation as it really applies to companies in their day to day operations.

For those who want to check it out, here is Episode #17.

Standard disclaimer:

Each podcast is free for 30 days, but you have to be a basic member to access it. After 30 days, you have to have a Pro Membership to access it, so either head on over quickly (depending on when you see this) or consider upgrading to a Pro membership so that you can get to the podcasts and the entire library whenever you want to :). In addition, Pro membership allows you to access and download to the entire archive of Software Test and Quality Assurance Magazine, and its issues under its former name, Software Test and Performance.

Again, my thanks to STP for hosting the podcasts and storing the archive. We hope you enjoy listening to them as much as we enjoy making them :).

Thursday, October 21, 2010

PNSQC Report: Day 2 & Day 3

OK, I'm finally home and able to gather my thoughts and put this all together.

Day 2 started bright and early with me getting to the World Trade Center Portland so I could set up the room where I'd be moderating. Since I was moderating the Usability track, that put me on the 2nd floor in the long grouping of three conference rooms made into one big one. again, moderating required setting up the room, making sure the electronics worked, that the lavaliere microphone worked as expected, and that everyone received feedback forms.

The first session of the day on Tuesday was the 2nd Keynote delivered by Harry Robinson of Microsoft (noted by many of the attendees... PNSQC has been known for the lack of Microsoft participation in the past, and this year there were several presenters from Microsoft. the times they are a'changin', as they said :) ). The keynote address was "Using Simple Automation to Test Complex Software", and focused on the challenges and methods used to test the launch and improvements made to the bing search engine (with lots of jokes later in the day about "binging" for things instead of, well, you know :) ). The focus of the talk was the moving away from older record/playback and dense architecture tools (it felt good to hear that even Microsoft found the commercial tools to be a bit, well, bulky and heavy) and encouraged the focus and continued use and reach of exploratory tests.

In the Usability track, Matt Primrose presented his talk about how to use Kano Categories to Grade User Experiences. The Kano Model classifies product attributes based on how they are perceived by customers and their effects on customer satisfaction. The idea is to look at multiple features and separate them out into three categories: Must Have, Desired and Differentiator. In addition, the Kano Model allows for grading of each item with regard to implementation (0.0 for not implemented, 0.5 for partially implemented, 1.0 for fully implemented, and 1.25 for implemented beyond minimum requirement). I found this to be an interesting talk and follow-on discussion, and think this may well be an approach I will use in future projects.

Kathleen Naughton did the second presentation in the Usability track about her efforts to help simplify printer installation success for consumers. Her presentation focused on the test lab that H-P developed with the express purpose to develop methods to lower the number of support calls from customers regarding printer installations (specifically with regard to wireless implementations). Kathleen went into great detail about many of the issues found in the field and reported to H-P Customer service, and the steps they took to beef up their testing approach and methods to make the process of installing printers easier for consumers.

The afternoon sessions I moderated were all focused on Test technique, and we had a broad range of topics to consider. Mark Fink came all the way from Germany to share his techniques for visualizing software quality in large projects (the main idea being to use color and shapes to help describe and show a number of methods and techniques to show visual representations of software quality (and bonus, this is all part of an open source project that mark hoes to make available within the next six months!). Brian Walker demonstrated methods to perform static code analysis and find bugs even before the builds are finished to determine if there are issues, and to follow on and use these static analysis tools in the nightly builds. Ashish Khandelwal and Gunankar Tyagi came from India to present their talk on Adaptive Application Security Testing Model and its implementation at McAfee. They described their challenges with implementing this model and the benefits they achieved by implementing this approach. The final talk of the day was presented by Jean Hartmann and discussed how Microsoft implemented Large-Scale Integration Testing.

The evening presentations included more poster paper presentations and the Rose City SPIN meeting and their special guest, Jonathan Bach. Jonathan presented a talk titled "My Crazy Plan for Responding to Change". Some may have noticed Jon and James Bach discussing an idea they called "thread-based testing", and this talk fleshed out a lot of the ideas and allowed the attendees to ask questions. It was a spirited give and take, with a number of the attendees enthusiastic about the idea and some saying they were not quite so sure. I had to leave at 7:30 PM due to dinner reservations with a friend, but the debate was still going when I left, so it was definitely an exciting discussion for all the participants.

Day 3 was Workshop day, and I was able to, in addition to moderating, also participate in Michael Dedolphs workshop on "Intuitive Test Management". This was a very interesting discussion and participation session, in which we had the chance to look at various risk categories and apply them to a real project, determine the probability of the risk occurring, and then determine methods for mitigating the risk (and minimizing the additional risks that mitigation can introduce into the current risk profile).

At the end of the workshop, I helped break down the room, turn in the evaluation forms, and said my goodbyes to a number of new friends and people I hope I'll get the chance to work with again. I had a great time at PNSQC, and I am already making plans to participate again next year in a volunteer capacity so that I can do more and get more involved. Who knows, I may even present a paper for next year :). Time will tell, but I'm certainly motivated to do so right now. In any event, I look forward to seeing everyone again next year, in one capacity or another.    

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

PNSQC Report: Day 1

Day 1 of PNSQC

Monday was an active and focused day of learning, meeting new people and helping out where I could. I had the pleasure of listening to the Keynote speaker, Tim Lister, as he shared his experiences in patterns in the workplace, and how the patterns tell us much more about the organization than the supposed “best practices” of the organization. Some wonderful examples were shared and illustrated things that we see in our everyday work worlds. One telling slide was his talking about the “Cider House Rules” (John Ingram book and later film), in which it points out that teams and organizations frequently live by two set of rules; the official rules, and then what are the “real rules”, or the ones that the organization genuinely supports and fights for.

I moderated the morning session on Test Techniques. That basically means that I introduced the speaker, kept track of time, made sure that we paid attention to the time, and gave out and selected feedback forms for the presentation. The presentation that I moderated was Michael Dedolph’s “Contextually-driven System Architecture Reviews”. Turned out to be a very interesting topic, as it showed how he has conducted architecture reviews, and tied it into testing and how we could use the same ideas. I found the notion of the “snow card” to be a good idea, and I plan to use this when I get back home.

During lunch, we had what was called a “birds of a feather” presentation, actually a number of them. I was interested in the session on Test Data and Configuration Management, and had great interactions with a number of people and had a chance to hear about the way that test data management is conducted in other places.

Two of the highlight talks I attended in the afternoon were Alan Page’s talk on code reviewing from a testers perspective, and the value of a checklist in that process. Alan made the point that testing one item at a time yields better results than doing an ad-hoc review to look for problems. Once one checklist item has been finished, go to the next one. I also received a copy of "How We Test Software at Microsoft" (signed, even). Needless to say, I know what my next book review is going to be :) ).

Another presentation that I found interesting was Denise Holmes “Managing Polarities in Pursuit of Quality” . This was a session based on process improvement, and I actually found the idea behind this to be very interesting. A polarity is the idea that there are opposite pairs of things (the example used was “planned vs. flexible”). The idea puts the two contrasting items on an X-axis, with the opposing terms on either side. The Y-axis is broken up into a positive site (the pluses, literally) and a negative side (again the literal minuses). What ends up happening is that, in real interaction a feedback loop that looks like infinity takes place, where there is give and take for each of the polarities. Understanding this idea helps organizations to determine where they actually want to meet to discuss approaches or gather a consensus. We often think of “meeting in the middle”, but we don’t really. We meet at the point where the polarities are both satisfied to a reasonable level.

With four tracks and multiple meeting options, it’s impossible to attend every session, but one of the great resources from this conference is the proceedings booklet. Every talk and presentation is printed and available for the attendee to read at a later time and do continued research (and proceedings from previous years are available at if you are interested in topics covered; proceeding for 2010 will be posted soon, and very likely by me :) ).

The Monday night social event had some excellent food, and a number of presenters that were showing “poster papers”. These papers are poster boards with presentations about ideas that may not warrant entire talks, but make for a good five minute discussion. Some examples of what I saw were the idea of a Virtual Extreme Programming Workbench, using white box techniques for creating automated tests, issues related to testing portable devices, and my personal favorite, testing software used for running a “Lego League” robot (presented by two high school freshmen).

On a personal note, I decided to “do like the Portlanders do” and instead of drive in and hunt for parking, I walked to the TriMet station near my hotel and rode the train into the city and to the stop near the World Trade Center Portland. This manner of travel allowed me to meet up with a few tourists who were looking for Voodoo Doughnuts. A stop at the Chinatown station, a few block of walking and, well, one of the more interesting places to get doughnuts in Portland can be found and enjoyed (for the record, the bacon and maple bar is awesome :) ).

Day one down, come back tomorrow for my report of day two.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Greetings From Portland!!!

OK, this has been a long day (LOL!).

It started at 2:00 AM, when I got up, got dressed and then got in my car to drive from San Bruno, CA to Portland, OR. Just under 600 miles in 9 1/2 hours. I had enough time to get to the hotel, drop my stuff off, clean up, lay down for a bit, and then make my way to the Portland World Trade Center.

I and a number of volunteers came in so that we could get the participants bags ready... all 300 of them! Each bag gets a full copy of the proceedings of the conference (that's all of the papers, all of the special presentations, and all of the details from and for the conference),. the latest copy of Better Software magazine, and a bag to carry all of the schjwag that each tester will likely want to go home with :).

After we finished getting the bags ready, some of us went over to the Rock Bottom Brewery to unwind and have some really great food. I had my first 2AM Burger, which is hash browns, a flam broiled burger, crumbled bacon, cheese, and an over-easy egg... may sound weird, but it tastes *awesome*.

Tomorrow, I will be moderating the Test Techniques track, introducing the speakers and doing background support to make sure things run smoothly. I'm looking forward to it, and I'll be updating everyone each night of the sessions I'm moderating and attending. If you are here at PNSQC, stop by and say hi. If not, follow along and I'll tell you at least what I see and experience :).

Friday, October 15, 2010

TWIST # 16: Extreme Programming and Tester Attributes with Catherine Powell

There’s always a trade-off, it seems :). Matt and I were reviewing the interview for last week, and for the sake of time, I’ll confess it was heavily edited. One of the challenges that you face when editing conversations is that, if not done with enough space, it can sounds really “jerky”; the conversation doesn’t sound natural. However, too much space and you get inconsistency in sound, or in some cases no sound, which sounds a little odd when there’s a natural noise floor. The funny thing is, as we have developed a sound that is clearer and getting closer to “radio production value”, which is my ultimate goal, things like this become more noticeable, which makes my job as an editor less simple (and thus, requires more testing of techniques, which ultimately makes it fun, since I learn some new trick or technique every week, it seems).

So for this week's TWiST, Matt talks with Catherine Powell of Abakus Consulting. Catherine is another of those classic “testers who fell into the gig”, just like me :). She comes from a finance background, and has been a part of the Extreme Programming and Agile movements for the better part of the past decade in Boston.

You can learn more about Catherine by reading her blog or reading about her company. Abakas Consulting focuses on on-demand test/dev services in the Boston area, and also provides training and coaching.

For those who want to check it out, here is Episode #16.

Standard disclaimer:

Each podcast is free for 30 days, but you have to be a basic member to access it. After 30 days, you have to have a Pro Membership to access it, so either head on over quickly (depending on when you see this) or consider upgrading to a Pro membership so that you can get to the podcasts and the entire library whenever you want to :). In addition, Pro membership allows you to access and download to the entire archive of Software Test and Quality Assurance Magazine, and its issues under its former name, Software Test and Performance.

Again, my thanks to STP for hosting the podcasts and storing the archive. We hope you enjoy listening to them as much as we enjoy making them :).

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Army of One: Pairing With an Expert

One of the challenges being a lone gun tester is the fact that, often, you don’t have someone else to ask questions with. Sure you can talk to developers about issues and areas you have concerns about, but that’s not what I mean. It’s rare that time will allow a person to consistently sit down with a developer and just ask broad and open-ended questions about a product, a technique or an idea. Larger test organizations allow testers to have this opportunity. Frequently, the Army of One tester ends up doing most of their thinking or brainstorming alone… but they don’t have to.

Today I had a cool experience. One of our domain knowledge experts had some time today and asked if we could set up a pair testing session, with the idea of “asking the product some questions”. The domain expert in this case is an Attorney very well versed in Immigration Law. There are a lot of layers to testing software that services the legal profession, which my company does. While I know a fair amount about Immigration and Employment Law just by virtue of repeatedly testing and looking at the challenges our products are meant to address, I will not have the same level of experience or expertise that a dedicated attorney would have.

As we sat and tested, we discussed a number of aspects about the product that looked “interesting” (that’s a euphemism for “something’s not right”). Many of these situations consisted of items and pages and applications I’d looked at countless times, and felt they worked as designed. They did, but the domain expert can often see things in ways that a tester can’t (at least at first, testers are notoriously fast learners :) ). While this is helpful, the most helpful aspect is the ability to sit down and ask questions of a product, and more specifically, ask questions a user might ask themselves, even if many of the questions seemed far- fetched or unlikely.

Through half a day of testing, I discovered areas I was sure I was covering well, but realized I could do lots better, and some areas that I could just flat out ignore (well, not completely, but certainly give them less emphasis for a time). Having this resource on a regular basis can be a blessing, but it's not practical at certain places. That’s OK, because a little can go a long way. It may be impractical to ask many of the people to participate daily, but given an option of once a month or so, you may be surprised at how many people are willing to sit down and roll up their sleeves and muck around for a half a day. Spread out among enough contributors (developers, support staff, marketing, sales, etc.) you can get a lot of unique input to help energize testing efforts or, at the minimum, consider questions you may not have thought to ask yet.

Friday, October 8, 2010

TWiST # 15: Falling into Testing and Volunteering with, Well, ME :)!!!

OK, yes, this is nerdy, but I’m excited. I figured something out looking at the NyQuist chains used for certain key functions and effects. For the past several TWiST’s we’ve created, I’ve had to battle with the volume of Matt’s part, and each time I’d level and Normalize it, and then export it out to MP3, there would be this strange “doubling” of Matt’s voice. We’ve been jokingly referring to it as his “John Lennon” impersonation (listen to “I am the Walrus” and then listen to one of the past few TWiST podcasts, and you’ll see what I mean). I could not figure out what was going on. Finally, I decided to look up the process of MP3 conversion that Audacity uses, and the MP3 conversion runs through a series of Normalization routines (it goes through and amplifies quieter passages and limits louder ones).

Having already run this for the CleanSpeech routine (several times, in fact). it just keeps adding small amounts of amplification to the lower amplitude waveforms. Net result, phase shifted audio (i.e. doubling of lower amplitude frequencies). What tipped me off was that, when I created a Mix down to an uncompressed WAV file, there was no hint of doubling. So this week’s episode will be special because it’s the first where we’ve achieved close to the sonic clarity that I’ve been after since starting with Episode 6.

So yeah, today’s TWiST is with (drum roll, please)…. ME!!! After having produced several shows and edited and formatted ten of these podcasts, you’d figure that I’d be able to roll with this easily, and the interview would be a piece of cake… and you’d be wrong (LOL!). Seriously, having been the one to massage the interviews and format them for time and flow, you’d think I’d have this down to one take. Well, it’s easier to critique other’s interviews than it is to flawlessly conduct my own, and no, mine didn’t go flawlessly, either. I answered the questions asked, and enjoyed the topics covered, but wow, remind me never to be critical of other people’s mannerisms when they speak, because I have PLENTY of my own! Matt and I talked about how I “fell into testing” and the improbable path I walked to get started in this business, as well as some of the challenges I’ve faced as a “tester of one” in my career. What’s different, and probably not likely to show up in any other TWiST interview was my involvement with Scouting and how it’s helped to foster a spirit of volunteerism with me in the testing community (I thought I’d be able to go into my joke about “helium hand syndrome” but alas, I never managed to bring it up… possibly not inspired this time around).

Anyway, since I’ll be up at Wood Badge when it officially goes live, I’ll have to give you a general link for the time being and link to the specific link for the Podcast when I get back. For those who want to check it out, here is Episode #15. (Updated: now with the official link :) ).

Standard disclaimer:

Each podcast is free for 30 days, but you have to be a basic member to access it. After 30 days, you have to have a Pro Membership to access it, so either head on over quickly (depending on when you see this) or consider upgrading to a Pro membership so that you can get to the podcasts and the entire library whenever you want to :). In addition, Pro membership allows you to access and download to the entire archive of Software Test and Quality Assurance Magazine, and its issues under its former name, Software Test and Performance.

Again, my thanks to STP for hosting the podcasts and storing the archive. We hope you enjoy listening to them as much as we enjoy making them :).

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Forging Our Own Future

A bunch of people that I follow on Twitter are attending Agile Testing Days, which is taking place, well, right now, in Berlin. A great meme started getting posted and a lot of people jumped on it, including me. I think it’s worth repeating, and yes, I’m gonna’ pontificate on it a little, too :).

Ready? Here it is:

We are a community of professionals.
We are dedicated to our own continuing education and take responsibility for our own careers.
We support advancing in learning and advancing our craft.
We certify ourselves.

I love this! Seriously, this should be the manifesto of every tester. I want this on a T-shirt! I’d wear it proudly.

Now I’m sure some of you are saying “come on, what’s so amazing about this?” What’s amazing is that there’s a groundswell of testers that are actively pursuing making themselves and their communities better. We aren’t waiting for others to recognize our worth, we’re willing and able to put it forward ourselves. We are not waiting for others to decide what we will learn and when, we are getting together, formally or informally, to improve our craft at regular intervals. We are developing skills that go beyond testing, and that will help us develop our craft well into the next couple of decades, and we are not asking permission.

I appreciate the last statement most of all; we are willing to put our own actions, words, deeds and efforts into what defines us, and not relying on a piece of paper to tell others that we are “certified testers”. I used to be ambivalent about “Certifications”, since at least in my neck of the woods, they don’t seem to mean anything (at least not to any employers I’ve ever interacted with). But really, that’s not the point. I don’t want a piece of paper saying whether or not I’m good at what I do. I want my reputation to say whether or not I’m good at what I do.

Seth Godin inspired in me a desire to try something audacious… my next job, wherever it will be, will come without me sending a resume. Say what?! Seriously, that’s my plan. No, I’m not currently looking for another job right now, but should that time come, I want to have it happen because:

a. I’ve been sought out by people who have heard of me.
b. I have a list of highly respected references that will blow their minds.
c. I will have product that they can touch, feel, and work with that will make them go “Oooh!” and “Ahhh!”
d. I will have a blog so compelling that they will have to sit up and pay attention.

…plus other things I haven’t yet thought of.

Now, before you all think I’ve bought a first class ticket on the “full of himself” train, no, I absolutely do not think I am there yet. I’m probably light years away from that right now, but in a very real sense, that’s where I want to be, and that’s what I want to work to achieve.

Godin’s comment invariably comes with the answer of “yeah, that would be great, but I don’t have any of those things, to which he follow up with “yeah… that’s my point!” Meaning, if we don’t have those things to point to, what makes us think that we are that indispensable person, that go-to person that we hope and strive to be?

The key take-away with this current meme is that we and our community will foster the future, if we make the decision to make that future happen. It will not happen just by our wishing for it, it will not happen just by us waiting for it. To quote a favorite radio host, we have to make the decision to “get up, leave the cave, kill something and drag it back home”.

Vivid impression? I sure hope so!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Wednesday Book Review: Getting Started with Audacity 1.3

OK, some of you will notice that I do not do many product specific reviews when it comes to my book choices. That’s because I don’t want to limit suggestions to a particular technology or have something I recommend only be relevant to a handful of people. For that reason, I tend to pick broad topics that any tester can use and can get in and take advantage of.

Still, there are times when I decide there’s something that really deserves its own spot and mention, especially when I find I’m using it all the time. There’s no question that, since I started producing TWiST, one program has become a constant friend and helper to me, and that’s Audacity. Since starting with the podcast, and up until now, I've decided to standardize on it and use it for all production aspects (I also like the fact that it’s completely open source and, well, free :) ).

Bethany Hiitola’s book “Getting Started with Audacity 1.3” is exactly that, it’s an introductory book, but it’s an introductory book that will help you easily understand how to do many things in Audacity ranging from simple to fairly complex. For this purpose, and quite conveniently, the book is formatted with one primary project… producing a podcast (see where I’m going with this, huh :)? ).

Chapter 1. Audacity and the World of Audio Editing

This chapter goes into explaining what the Audacity project is, and some specifics related to the most current version as to the book's printing (1.3 in April of 2010). Several common audio editing terms are covered and do not require a background in audio engineering or studio production to comprehend. The concept of an Audacity Project is explained, and also an understanding of the gear that is helpful to producing a podcast. You could go way overboard here, but really, a decent microphone and a pair of headphones attached to your built in sound card will do very well. If you decide to get really serious, a dedicated multi-input interface like a Roland U-30 would be awesome.

Chapter 2. The Basics: Setting Up a Project

This chapter helps the user understand how projects are set up and some of the common tasks and buttons/tools that will be used regularly.

Chapter 3. Ready and Action! Creating a Voice Track and Recording

Since this book is geared towards podcasting, it's no surprise that most of the coverage is aimed at recording voices, specifically using Skype as the medium to record interviews. The techniques described can also be used for in-person interviews.

Chapter 4. Making It Sound Better: Editing Your Podcast

The raw recording may have items that you want to modify, and that modification may be more than just cutting out a section. When editing an interview, there are some key tricks to making the edit sound as natural as possible (and sometimes even with the best editing, there are obvious jumps. Going in and understanding how to smooth those transitions out, as well as using the envelope tool for controlling volume within a track or the time shift tool to move audio around, will help the user make the most of the tracks that they modify.

Chapter 5. Advanced Editing: Fixing the Glitches and Removing the Noise

In most cases, the editing required will be minimal, but at times, to either fix problems or add a little excitement to the mix, you may want to play with some of the effects that are included. While there are a number of effects that will add all sorts of interesting sounds (like phaser and tremolo if you want to make it sound like a late 50's sci-fi radio serial :) ), many of the effects are actually simple tools that will allow you to even out the sound, or repair waveforms that were damaged or find "dropped" sections and allow the user to repair them (use this with care, as the resulting fix may be more unnatural than the original flaw). This section also shows how to set a noise floor and remove things like unwanted steady background noise (like tape hiss).

Chapter 6. Saving Projects and Exporting Podcasts

Each project, due to its tracking all edits and changes, can be very large collections of files. Usually, though, the final product is a (comparatively, small MP3 file or some other format. Understanding the export capability and how to manipulate the values (specifically for bit rate compression) can make a world of difference in the sound quality of the projects created.

Chapter 7. Beyond the Basics: Editing for Even Better Sound

There are a number of ways to edit the sound that go beyond simply cutting the waveform file and adding effects. It's possible to modify harsh sounds and soften them (sibilance), or shift the time in tracks and combine tracks together.

Chapter 8. Importing and Adding Background Music

It's easy to import audio into Audacity projects. want to have a background bed that plays at the beginning (or plays throughout the podcast)? Just import it and assign it to a track. This section explains how to set up the "auto-duck" tool, where background audio can be raised and lowered. You can also import audio directly from analog inputs, too, such as cassettes, vinyl records, CD's, etc. (though the easier way to get audio from a CD is just to rip it to MP3 or WAV and import it directly).

Chapter 9. Giving Your Audio Some Depth: Applying Effects

There are a lot of effects that can be used in audacity. As previously mentioned, some of them are really obvious when used (echo, reverb, delay, phaser, tremolo) and can add a lot of excitement to the sound of the waveforms. There are also a number of less obvious effects that can also be used for enhancing audio, such as amplification, leveling, normalizing, noise cancellation, compression and limiting, etc.). Many of the effects use the audio industry programming standard called NyQuist. NyQuist chains can be created to make your own processing procedures.

Chapter 10. Making Audacity Even Better With Plug-Ins and Libraries

Audacity is an open source tool, and as such, many of the enhancements for the application can be added as plug-ins to the application. Many of the effects are available as plug-ins and can be applied and used. Users can also create their own chains of commands using NyQuist and store these as a library (which you can share with others, too :) ).

The book ends with two appendices; an explanation of the toolbar, menu & keyboard shortcuts and a Glossary of commonly used terms.

Bottom Line:

This may be a bit of a specialty item, and if you are not interested in doing audio editing, then I can understand that this may be a little limited in its scope, but if you do find yourself making audio instructions, or decide you may want to get into podcasting yourself, and if you decide that Audacity is a tool you'd like to use, then "Getting Started with Audacity 1.3" will help make sense of it all in a format that's easy to follow and builds naturally.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

12 Days and Counting (PNSQC, Here I Come!)

So, it’s now less than two weeks away from the start of the Pacific Northwest Software Quality Conference, and like anyone doing anything for their first time, yes, I’m excited to participate. I’ve attended conferences in the past, but this the first time I’ve attended one specifically for my industry.

My thanks to the great crew of participants helping to put this conference together. A special shout out goes to Rhea Stadick over at Intel. She’s been my mentor and “supervisor” as I’ve gone through and created web pages and session reports, abstracts, and updates for the PNSQC site (I do the raw page construction and design, she makes sure they go in the right place :). Thanks to her and all of the other volunteers, they have made it possible for me to participate in this conference for Free! OF course, that free ticket comes with the proviso that I work my way there and while I’m there (what’s that song I frequently quote? “I’m going to work my ticket if I can”? Well, that’s exactly what I’m doing here!

My goal and hope is to be able to send some dispatches from the field and share my experience with this (I can just see the eye rolls from the veterans out there, but hey, let this newbie enjoy himself). I’ll be driving up early Sunday morning, October 17th.

Yep, that’s a choice on my part, I’m driving! Why? A few reasons. One, by the time I priced out the cost of an airline ticket and a rental car, it would cost me more than it would to drive there, and the distance isn’t that far. If I can make it to Salt Lake City in a day, I can certainly make it to Portland (and according to most forecasts, I should be able to do the drive in about 9 hours. Plus, I’ve never done that drive before, and there are friends in Oregon that I’d like to see while I’m there; this will give me a little more latitude to do that.

“Back to Portland, Happy Land… I’m going to work my ticket if I can”… hmmm, doesn’t quite have the same ring as the original, but oh well. To those who read this blog and will be attending, please feel free to come up to the tall bald guy and say hello!

Friday, October 1, 2010

TWIST # 14: Big IT and getting away from Command and Control

So we have another two-fer this time around. Matt talked with Mark Vasko and Alex Kell and it was an engaging conversation., The only issue was that the reception of the calls wasn’t equal, so you hear a distinct difference in the sounds of the interviewees this time around. You can hear them both well, though, so it’s not a big deal, IMO :).

Today's topic is in-house IT and testing staff that work with them. Both Mark and Alex work for large organizations (Progressive Auto Insurance and Turner Broadcasting systems), weach with farily massive IT departments and in house software development that needs testing. The topics range broadly, from absolutism in audits (and why none of the participants think it’s particularly helpful) to keying in on the metrics and measurements that really matter to stakeholders.

For those who want to check it out, here is Episode #14.

Standard disclaimer:

Each podcast is free for 30 days, but you have to be a basic member to access it. After 30 days, you have to have a Pro Membership to access it, so either head on over quickly (depending on when you see this) or consider upgrading to a Pro membership so that you can get to the podcasts and the entire library whenever you want to :). In addition, Pro membership allows you to access and download to the entire archive of Software Test and Quality Assurance Magazine, and its issues under its former name, Software Test and Performance.

Again, my thanks to STP for hosting the podcasts and storing the archive. We hope you enjoy listening to them as much as we enjoy making them :).