Blog Posts from January, 2008

CAST 2008 – Call for Papers

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2008

This year’s Conference for the Association for Software Testing will be held in Toronto, Ontario, July 14-16, 2008. Jerry Weinberg is our first announced keynote speaker, with others to come. The theme of the conference is “Beyond the Boundaries: Interdisciplinary Approaches to Software Testing”.

CAST is a different kind of conference. It is, to a great degree, a scaled-up version of the LAWST-style workshops initiated by Cem Kaner and Brian Lawrence in 1999, of which there have been more than 100 as of this writing. One of the hallmarks of CAST is the interaction between the presenters and the other participants. Each keynote and track presentation is followed by discussion, guided by a trained facilitator. We allow plenty of time for this discussion, and we build slack into the schedule so that discussions can be extended when there’s energy for it. The focus is on, mirabile dictu, conferring.

The AST is non-profit, and for the conference, we make every effort to keep the costs low and the quality of discourse high.

We’ve announced the Call for Papers (

I’d like to ask a couple of favours, please, dear reader. First, if you have a blog, a newsletter, an internal Web site or mailing list at work… any forum in which you can publicize the CFP, please provide a link to it and help to make sure that the worldwide testing community knows about it. Relatively few people read my blog, but lots of people—and different people—read yours. We’re looking for abstracts—proposals, not finished papers—by February 4. Please provide that link now. Please!

And apropos of that, the second favour is that I ask you—or people that you know who’d do a good job—to please submit proposals for presentations, especially in the form of actual experience reports from real test practitioners.

Finally, I’d ask that you come to the conference (don’t forget to bring a passport if you’re flying in). I’d be thrilled to host you in my home town and have some seriously good conversations about testing and a ton of other topics surrounding it.

What Counts? Redux

Sunday, January 13th, 2008

In my December 2007 Test Connections column in Better Software, I discussed the problem of counting bugs, test cases, and other things that are mind-stuff, rather than physically constructed objects. I gave a number of examples, but I now have another compelling one.

I got the same Christmas gift—Steven Pinker’s The Stuff of Thought—from both my mother and my brother-in-law. (I guess they have me figured out.) In Chapter One, Pinker asks a question about the attack (or is it attacks?) on the World Trade Center in 2001. An airplane hit the North Tower at 8:46am. Seventeen minutes later, another airplane hit the South Tower. Now: was that one event or two?

You could argue that this was a single event, since it was part of a co-ordinated plan with a single agenda, organized by a single group. Or you could argue that there were two events here; two different buildings, two different airplanes, two different groups of hijackers, and two different times. Or you could argue that it doesn’t matter—that’s such talk is just nitpicking, or hairsplitting, or mere semantics, and that there’s no value in making such distinction.

As Pinker notes, though, we can put a precise value on such distinctions in this case: $3.5 billion dollars. That’s because Larry Silverstein, the leaseholder on the WTC property, held an insurance policy that paid out a maximum reimbursement of three billion and a half billion dollars for each destructive event. Several courts and several juries have come to different conclusions on the matter. If we use the formula of total insurance paid out (about $5 billion) divided by $3.5 billion dollars, it appears that there approximately one and one-half events that day—and if that doesn’t seem right to you, don’t worry; it doesn’t seem right to me either.

Our words, our ideas, and our systems of measurements are very complex and tangled. If we want to understand something, simple numbers simply won’t do the trick.