The Honored Guest

With the 4th of July rolling around, here is my tribute to one of our lesser-known Founding Fathers: Thomas Paine. Like a good father, he suggested names for the new baby he was creating. In Common Sense, he used phrases like “United Colonies,” “American states,” and “Free and Independent States of America.” Finally, of course, everyone agreed on “The United States of America.”

In the mid-1770s, Paine was a fireball of energy and a brilliant writer of revolutionary call-to-action books and pamphlets. That was his main contribution to the cause of American Independence. He was a powerful individualist who believed in the power of people rallying together. His first major work Common Sense was published several months before the Declaration of Independence. It persuaded those still in doubt to align with the Revolutionary cause. It shifted the momentum from debates to action.

During the American Revolution, Paine went on to write Crisis (“These are the times that try men’s souls”) and other pieces that informed and inspired the American armies in hard times, and kept them going.

After the war ended, and the United States was settled, Paine’s enthusiasm for freedom propelled him into the French Revolution next. He wrote Rights of Man for that cause, and other essays, to rally the French people.

Unfortunately, the French outcome was not quite so cut and dried as the American. After the chaotic shifting power struggles of the French Revolution, Paine found himself in a Bastille where he expected to be executed. While imprisoned he wrote Age of Reason which addresses excessive religious influence in government. It is a more caustic work, as he never expected to see the light of day again. It had the effect of cooling his reputation in America as well, at least for some. Americans were divided on how to take Age of Reason: Did it go too far against belief, or was it a dying man’s final effort to argue the separation of church and state?

Much to Paine’s surprise, he was not executed. In 1794 Paine was unexpectedly released from his French prison by the démarches of future US President James Monroe, then American Minister to France.

Because of his tarnished reputation back in the states, Paine was not sure if he could or should return. But to remove any doubt, an old friend came to his rescue. As soon as Thomas Jefferson became president in 1801, he wrote an affectionate letter to Thomas Paine inviting him to return to the US as the honored guest of the nation he helped to create.

Paine was still persona non grata in much of the US—he was both embraced and vilified when he returned. This shouldn’t be surprising. It sounds like the beginning of a long tradition of conflicting public opinion and clashing values in this country.

Ultimately, Paine’s courage and strong character won him the respect of friends and enemies alike. Two states came to his aid. Pennsylvania gave him $500 grant, a huge sum in 1801. New York state granted Paine a farm and land to retire on, with the comment, “his literary works, and those especially under the signature of Common Sense and the Crisis, inspired the citizens of this state with unanimity, confirmed their confidence in the rectitude of their cause, and have ultimately contributed to the freedom, sovereignty, and independence of the United States” (ThomasPaine.org). Paine had set the tone for the “Controversial Hero,” a model that many have followed over the past 250 years.

In politics, religion, and social life, Thomas Paine was a leader and fighter for the freedoms we consider automatic in daily life. Paine’s life was not spent in vain; he believed such rights should be automatic—just not taken for granted.

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The Secret Lives of Codebreakers

Book Review
Title: The Secret Lives of Codebreakers
Author: Sinclair McKay
Published: Penguin Group 2010

Recently I saw the 2014 film The Imitation Game about British Intelligence’s codebreaking of German communications during World War II. The movie was interesting enough that I went straight to Barnes & Noble and bought a book to learn more. I just finished reading The Secret Lives of Codebreakers: The Men and Women Who Cracked the Enigma Code at Bletchley Park, which was published a few years before the film came out. Continue reading

The Education of Henry Adams

Book Review
Title: The Education of Henry Adams
Author: Henry Adams
Published: Modern Library 1931. Originally published 1918. Privately circulated 1907

Last December I wrote about Adams’ earlier work, Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres, which I recommended for its rich blend of philosophy, legend, architecture, personal observations, and mediæval history. The Education of Henry Adams is also rich in personal observations and history. Continue reading

The Ides of March

March 15 is remembered as the Ides of March because of the assassination of Roman ruler Julius Caesar.

In B.C. 49 a power struggle divided the Roman Senate. Two influential leaders controlled military forces: Julius Caesar and a man by the name of Pompey. A civil war seemed inevitable. Continue reading

Resolutions and Exclusions

As part of the New Year tradition, I am posting my Resolution. I am also posting my Exclusions—some popular resolutions that I am not pursuing.

Resolution: My New Year’s Resolution is basically the same every year, and has two parts:

  1. Do more: “Do More” is my ongoing mode of travel through life because challenges are exciting and the more I accomplish the better I like it. Continue reading

Mont Saint Michel and Chartres

Book Review
Title: Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres
Author: Henry Adams
Publisher: Penguin Classics; Reprint edition (June 3, 1986). Originally published 1904.

Henry Adams toured French mediæval gothic architecture, and apparently took a lot of notes, focusing on the Grande Cathedrals of Mont-Saint-Michel (built in the 1100s) and Chartres (built in the late 1100s to 1200s). The notes became the book. If that were the extent of the book, however, it could be summed with a few nice photos and captions. But there’s also 360 pages of mystery and fascination surrounding the architecture. Continue reading

Marketing Deeper

Conventional views of marketing is that it’s shallow, purely promotional, and not deeply informative like other forms of information, such as research articles and manuals. There’s been a large gap between deeper learning versus glossy brochures. Today, good marketing is bridging that gap. Continue reading

Content Marketing

When scientists publish articles in reputable journals, it enhances their reputation. When the scientist works for a company in the industry, it enhances the company’s reputation. That kind of knowledge leadership builds trust and indirectly generates revenue. No amount of marketing can create that kind of trust and customer loyalty, until now. That is precisely the kernel of truth upon which content marketing is built. Continue reading

The Doublecheckers

Exhausted after fifteen hours of preparing a CD product that had to ship that day, one last little error was found, and fixed. “It’s good to go!” said the person who fixed it. It was 11 p.m. on a Friday night, we had been working on this since 8 a.m., pushing to meet the deadline. There was a sigh of relief by everyone, except for me and my lead Quality Assurance Analyst. We looked at each other and nodded in agreement—“No, not good to go.” Continue reading

My 4th-of-July Thank You

Like every year around the 4th of July I hear a lot about the Fathers of America, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, John Adams. They were men of character, courage, and intelligence. We do well to learn from their example. We should be grateful year round for those who set such a high bar risking everything for others, doing what’s right without faltering in fear of painful consequences Continue reading

Archaeology of SDLC

There are some great names among the founders of the still-nascent field, industry, and profession of Software Testing & Quality Assurance: Dave Gelperin, Boris Beizer, Glenford Myers, Rick Craig, and Lee Copeland, to name a few. A name not often included in that list is Michel Foucault. That may be because Foucault was a social theorist and philosopher rather than a software quality practitioner. But I was listening to a Foucault interview on knowledge and culture from 1971, and as with all things interesting, I started thinking how it might relate to QA. Continue reading

Shakespeare 450

William Shakespeare’s 450th birthday is today, born 23 April 1564. Or at least it is traditionally celebrated on 4/23. He was baptized 4/26 so his birth date would be a few days earlier. Being born 450 years ago today adds a certain symmetry—he also died on 4/23, in 1616, 398 years ago today.

Just about a tenth of all the words in Shakespeare’s works are words that he invented Continue reading

“Software Test Essentials” in Tea-Time with Testers

My article: “Software Test Essentials” is published in Tea-Time with Testers magazine, March/April 2014 issue.

Tea-Time with Testers is the largest-circulated software testing monthly in the world, and one of the best international software testing publications available for today’s test and QA professional. Link to the magazine homepage.

Big Data and the New CMO

Marketers and especially CMOs transition into increasingly technical roles as marketing becomes an increasingly metrics-driven activity. Big data is largely to blame. Metrics deliver actionable information on human community, phone apps behavior, ecommerce behavior, social networking, browsing patterns, as well as metrics on real-world trends and transactions Continue reading

Persian Carpets


Book Review
Title: The Root of the Wild Madder
Author: Brian Murphy
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, New York, 2005

There are plenty of dry histories of Persian carpet making, and sterile picture books of Persian carpets, but too often they fail to do justice to their topic. That’s not a surprising problem for anyone trying to unravel an ancient art form that has survived millennia. Continue reading