Charles Dickens 203

Let us take a moment to remember Charles Dickens today, his 203rd Birthday.

When you read novels by Charles Dickens, and then read true accounts of mid-1800s London and look at photographs of the period, you’ll find his descriptions match reality very closely. That is surprising to some who think Dickens’ descriptions are exaggeration and caricature to achieve a quaint and humorous effect. Real people are quirky, real London shops were haphazard, colorful, and odd. But few writers could capture quirks and oddities like Dickens could. No one before or since has had such a perceptive eye for detail, and a grasp of human qualities, combined with the artistic skill to express it.

His settings were often real places, the Old Curiosity Shop, for example. Dickens didn’t use the actual shop’s name. But when he let the real shop’s owner know he had used it as his model for the shop in the story, the owner promptly renamed his establishment “The Old Curiosity Shop.” It is an endearing example of the healthy interplay of art imitating life and life imitating art.

Beyond the parade of man’s quirks and oddities, Dickens targeted injustice in almost everything he wrote. For example, amid Old Curiosity Shop’s enchanting interiors and vivid characters, he targets scheming misers and greedy landlords who leave death or ruined lives in their wake. He weaves together life’s powerful joys and despicable evils in picturesque settings with a focused, poignant moral.

In one novel, Hard Times, Dickens dispensed with the endearing and picturesque to focus on the boundless miseries of nineteenth-century industrial towns. He probes inhumane factory conditions with pitiless detail. It is a hard-edged indictment of conditions, with less comedic relief than Dickens’ usual approach. Hard Times does not contain colorful characters and settings, but rather, settles on a hardcore reality that lets nothing distract from the central point of the dreadful state of life. It is a lean, stripped bare, relentless cataloging of life-draining difficulties and sadness.

Back to Dickens’ normal M.O.—in Bleak House, for example, Dickens attacks and condemns the courts and legal system, but does it through 700 pages of sparkling character development, quirky fun, typical Dickensian oddities and colorful settings. He masterfully weaves multiple disparate threads of plotline that eventually magically converge to make a whole coherent, brilliant story. The overall Bleak House experience includes the harsh indictments expressed through quaint, gritty-but-compelling London scenes, through the life (and death) of vivid Dickensian characters. The characters and situations are real and clearly convey the injustices in the legal system. But they are captured and delivered to us with all the quirks and oddities that only Dickens’ perceptive eye and detailed artistic expression can deliver.

This delivery comes to us in thousands of pages from Charles Dickens’ unparalleled lifetime of writing. It’s his gift that keeps on giving, which lives through the ages, and which we remember today on his 203rd.

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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

Thanksgiving, Football, and Web Development

Thanksgiving reminds me of many things for which I am grateful. Thanksgiving is a time to count blessings, and a time to use football analogies for software projects. As the stuffing settles, and the games are on, my thoughts naturally turn towards the leadership, the coaching, the training, the practice, the teamwork, and the execution that all contribute to the successful launch of a website. Continue reading