Category Archives: Recomended

TV Shows to binge-watch 


On Acorn

Antipodian: New Zealand:

800 Words“,  Suddenly a widower, an Australian writer moves with his kids to the NZ village he spent summers in as a kid. Complications ensue. Great stories, charming characters, excellent writing and acting, several seasons.

Brokenwood Mysteries“,  Brokenwood, a medium size town in NZ, gets a new senior detective, colorful but as it happens, good at his job. Slightly flaky-seeming local Maori guy turns out to know everyone and something about everything. He’s like a benificent Trickster god. Detective Sims, 2nd most senior, is the only actual adult in the plain-clthes part of the station.

Antipodian: Australian:

Rain Shadow“, – a former grain-growing area of South Australia now in drought. Perminently? Story follows a young vet from the big city

Crownies“, – Crown Prosecuturs: Ensemble, very long-form stories, each lawyer has multiple cases moving at different points in the system. 
Janet King”  (sequel to Crownies), Crownies refashioned to center on one lawyer in particular, and with a brilliant freienemy mixed in
Jack Irish“. A winning, low-rent PI, only takes cases he wants…
Mr. and Mrs. Murder” – mostly comedy, two crime-scene cleaners show up after the cops are done, but often discover what really happened. The couple are charming and their neice keeps it in the family. The slightly hapless cop they are consistantly bailing out is at least grateful for the help

My Life Is Murder” – A retired ace detective neglects her baking to come back to the force, from time to time, solving crimes her old boss can’t get cleared by anyone else. Stars Lucy Lawless, formerly Xena, Warrior Princess.

Irish:

Striking Out” lawyer drama, wonderful cast and writing- Brief adult situations. 2 seasons!
Finding Joy“, – a lot of the same cast as Striking Out.. Newspaper copy editor suddenly assigned to local-color TV reporter’s beat. Bungie Jumps, New Age retreats. Serious fish out of water.
The miniseries of Tara French’s In The Woods and The Image. Really, really, dark, but gripping.
Jack Taylor” about a former Guardi working as a private investigator. Noir-ish.

British:

No Offense” – perfect cop comedy drama, funny as hell. But bad bad guys are in earnest, dark stuff happens. Story arcs are season-long but each episode has a point and arc of its own. Inspector Deering leads her squad with if-it-isn’t-true-it-ought-to-be-true verve. Mostly.
Ackley Bridge” – luminous comedy / drama about public school for a mixed stone poor Anglo and stone poor Pakistani imigrant/2nd generation community. Colorful cast of teachers and administrators. Superb writing and acting. We didn’t expect a 3rd season, but there is! and we’re enjoying it. Drop dead funny, and heart-breaking when it gets dramatic. An amazing amount of characters and their lives are stuffed into each episode.
Loch Ness“, the protagonist detective is leading her first murder investigation, on the shore and environs of the famous Loch. Her husband does “Nessie” tours for tourists, and gets a bit of education too.
Agatha Raisin” – former fashonista / publicity person moves to the Cotswalds and starts solving murders. The senior local cop is utterly incompitent, but she can work with the junior, and local worthies. Some of the outfits Agatha gets to wear may perimently damage older TVs…
Murder (Investigation) Squad“,  – London- based squad similar to Vera Stanhope’s Northumberland and City bunch- different people with different skills, one old-school white guy in a coat and tie, Inspector is a short, intense woman, her bagwoman is a taller, quieter Mc(something), not quite as driven. This is a DENSE show- You get more in one hour than some 2 hour or multi-part shows.”Line of Duty“. Anti-corruption/internal affairs procedural, in Northern Ireland. Complex plots.”The Good Karma Hospital” British doctor returns (?) to India, running a clinic with volunteer locals, ex-pats and returning migrants. Engaging stories move around the location of the hospital. 

 

Canadian:

19-2” as good as TV gets, but dark. A country cop with back-story moves to Montreal, teams with a city cop who’s former partner was disabled in a horrific shooting. Each has to prove himself to the other, while meeting their own high personal standards. And avoiding the machinations of the creepy captain. Crimes tend to be smaller and involve less gunfire than US cop shows- sometimes they get called for a fight in a bar, and assualts, property crimes, public safety and the usual sorta-organized illegal stuff you expect in a big city. One story starts with a homeless guy who’s outdoors, that the city cop knows. on a clear night that’s going to freeze. He should be indoors… and there-in lies the tale.

We loved the first episode, and thought, “lets have another, even if they can’t all be *that* good”. But they *are* that good. Each better than the one before. Stories build and interconnect. The characters, and the rest of their station (19th precinct, they have car #2) have stuff going on, and histories. Substance abuse, domestic violence, everyone’s stupid problems and the cops own relationship issues offer a range of situations that don’t go as hoped, or planned. There are losses, and hurts that don’t heal quickly.  Yet, after 4 seasons, and the cruel and senseless challenges that most survive, there’s the matter of an out of season deer carcas that the country cop’s brother arrives with one night. Its cleaned and hanging in the back of the tractor-trailer the brother drives for a living.  The short term solution involves packages wrapped in pink butcher’s paper, but one of the cops at the station has a venison pie recipe… and there’s the happy ending!

Scandinavian:

Rebecka Martinsson” A detective from the forest and lakes part of the country is about to marry a guy from the big city, then things get complex and she has to stay where she grew up and get it all sorted out. Beautiful locations, a smaller town with more rural and less agricultural land than Wallander.

Straight Forward” A second-generation con-artist flees Denmark when her father is killed, going to ground in New Zealand and trying to rescue her daughter…

Megahertz Network / Cable channel 17:

Beck” – Swedish detective squad led by older widower, nearing retirement. Comedic relief by his wacky neighor- guy with orange-tinted glasses who always appears with a neck brace, like he just had whiplash… usually meeting inconveniently in the hallway or out on the balconies of their flats. Beck’s squad has a hot-dog guy who’s cynical but a good shot, a female nerd, normalish plainclothes dudes and one  guy clearly descended from Vikings- wild red hair and beard, He’s the emotional one. Beck has a daughter who’s a uniformed cop. Not as bleak as “Wallander,”

Baantjer“: Dutch detective, older guy, younger team, like “Beck”, or “Wallander” come to think of it.

Inspector Manara“: Groovy Italian detective, has a Zappa poster up in his apartment  and plays solo saxaphone to soothe his soul.

 

Animal shows, In order of best and most soothing staff and animals.

Bronx, NY, Zoo: https://www.animalplanet.com/tv-shows/the-zoo/

Chester, UK, Zoo: https://www.animalplanet.com/tv-shows/secret-life-of-the-zoo/

Columbus, OH, Zoo: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/tv/shows/secrets-of-the-zoo/

Want more?

Houston, TX, Vet Clinic: https://www.animalplanet.com/tv-shows/the-vet-life/

San Diego, CA, Zoo: https://www.animalplanet.com/tv-shows/the-zoo-san-diego/

Taronga Zoo, Sydney, Aus. : https://www.nationalgeographic.com/tv/shows/secrets-of-the-zoo-down-under/

The Georgia Aquarium, GA https://www.animalplanet.com/tv-shows/the-aquarium/

On HBO:

Big Little Lies“, both seasons. Very dark. Spectacular cast and writing, set in Monterey! Extra intense 2nd season goes past the source book and brings in Meryl Streep!

Six Feet Under” The unexpected death of the owner/father of a family morturary in L.A. leaves his widow, their 3 kids and the partner in the business, mourning, and existentially challenged. The painfully disfunctional family have to pull together,  with the partner, to chart their own course for the business. And as idividuals, to build new lives with or without significant others. It takes 63 episodes, in 5 seasons, to figure it out, with one of the coolest end-of-the-last-episode-endings ever made.

Tremé,” set in the neighborhood of the same name in New Orleans, starting some months after Huricane Katrina. The superb cast and writing show how great TV can be made from stories of normal people trying to make a living and stay relatively honest in tragic times. Great food and music never hurt, even when the apocolypse has come and gone. Death is still in business. Love isn’t always enough. But even a character who seems to only be for themself can find some redemption, doing something for someone else.

The Wire“, further proof that good TV is character and story driven. One season follows one character into his new career as a public school teacher. No superheroics, just seemingly hopeless disfunction only occasionally redeemed by small success. Or rare grace. And yet. Andre Royo, the actor who portrays the recovering heroin adict, “Bubbles”, so intensely inhabited his role that people, in Baltamore, would see him on the street and press money on him, because he *was* that character, and that character needed the help. The good guys are good, the bad guys bad, and like any story it has to end. After far too much death and destruction. Besides its quality as art, the practical tutorial on drugs, crime, poverty, hollowed city centers and race is well worth your time.

On PBS:

Masterpiece detective procedurals:

Vera“, “Shetland“, “Broadchurch“,(UK version), “Foyle’s War

Food!:

I’ll Have What Phil’s Having” A gentler, “Parts Unknown”: travel+food

KQED’s “Check Please Bay Area”

On PBS and also on Acorn:

BBC’s venerable: “Doctor Who” The new Doctor had her break-out role in Broadchurch (UK).
Endeavor“, – Inspector Morse prequil. Interesting stuff, but the imagined Morse is a bit of a stretch, the senior Inspector he works with is fun, as is the young officer Strange and young medical examiner.
Inspector Lewis“,
Inspector Morse
Last Tango In Halifax“.
New Tricks“, An active duty detective gets assigned to cold cases and recruits 3 retired detectives as her squad. They’re all characters, the cold cases are a wide range, and the retirees change, and then the lead detective, as the seasons run on. Watch from the beginning if you can.

Recently, at our house, on cable TV:

Last week BBC miniseries “Pride and Predjudice”: (Collin Firth)
“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” – Fred Rogers’ biopic.
“Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit”
“The Best of Enemies” (recent, not David Niven WWII movie)
“Pride and Predjudice”: (2005 Kira Knightley)
“A Star is Born” (most recent version)
at a theatre: “Onward”
Before that: “Parasite”
We enjoyed “The Bridge” (Texas/Mexico) and “The Tunnel”, UK/France, both of which are very, very dark, though also very good

Don’t Forget: (From our DVD collection)

“Rivers and Tides: Andy Goldsworthy Working With TIme”
“My Neighbor Totoro”
“A Grand Day Out With Wallace and Gromit”
“Porco Rosso”
“Spirited Away”
“Howl’s Moving Castle”
“Spy Kids 2: Island of Lost Dreams”
“Tampopo”
“A Taxing Woman”
“Hidden Fortress”
“Seven Samarai”
“Le Mans” (Steve McQueen, 1970 = sequel to “Ford Vs. Ferrari”, in some ways…)
“Endless Summer” (Bruce Brown, mid 1960s)
“The Kids Are Allright” (The Who’s biopic, ending just before Keith Moon’s death)
“The Way Things Go” (31 minute Rube Goldberg machine made of industrial junk in a dis-used industrial space)

 

Stay safe!

Follow up to Dave Itzkoff’s NYT column about his 4 year old and home video, “Yellow Submarine & Me” .


Follow up to Dave Itzkoff’s NYT column about his 4 year old and home video, “Yellow Submarine & Me”  .

(I posted this as a comment on his greeting on Redit. Never been signed up on Redit before. I couldn’t send a message on Twitter and the letters section for the article was closed. I liked what he wrote, I hope he enjoys this additional info.)

Hi Dave, I’m Bill Abbott and I greatly enjoyed your NYT piece about “Yellow Submarine“. My kid, now 22, was also a big fan at that age. Great stuff! Same kid prefers “Help!” to “Hard Day’s Night”. Admittedly, “Help!” has more tigers, and the four attached home front doors leading to one room, with John’s bed below floor level. How I wanted one of those! Same kid offered a Nina Simone song as “what’s going through my mind now” this afternoon. I have no complaints.

Not long after “Yellow Submarine“, we were lucky enough to have another pre-schooler loan us a copy of “My Neighbor Totoro“. We didn’t know the film, didn’t know Miyazaki or Studio Ghibli. But we learned in a hurry! VERY kid friendly, and (spoiler) their mom is in the hospital but gets better! No Hollywood Movie disease! Totoro? You’ll meet the neighbor. You’ll be happy you did.

Then my brother loaned us a VHS of “The Way Things Go“. Its a 31 minuite Rube Goldberg machine made of industrial and consumer junk, in a disused factory setting. One thing knocks into a second, which tips a third, whick pulls a string, which releases a weight that falls on the end of a folded, partially inflated, vinyl boat, which unfolds, starting a tire rolling up (!) a ladder, which hits a second tire, starting it, and then a third, and a forth… you get the idea. Eventually the rhythms of the events , repetitions and variaions become identifyable, and after that, you start seeing the pauses where they had to reload the camera, every 3 minutes to 3:30 or so. I’ve probably seen it 100 times by now. When it ends, the delighted child says, “Again!” So always leave enough time to watch it twice.

Around age 5 or so, the family across the street loaned us a copy of “Spy Kids 2“. There were 3 “Spy Kids” movies, by Robert Rodriguez, and now there’s a fourth. We started with “Spy Kids 2”, because that’s what our neighbors loaned us, and they were right! Like “Night At The Museum 2“, “Spy Kids 2” explains nothing. There are characters. They have relationships. It will be come clear as it goes along. And there aren’t 30 seconds wasted in either film. “Spy Kids 2” has the great cast (Alan Cumming, Teri Hatcher, Cheech Marin, Danny Trejo, Tony Shalhoub.) of the first film, adding Ricardo Montalban and Holland Taylor as the Kids grandparents, on their mother’s side, a second Spy family, mom, dad, sister, brother, and Steve Beucimi as the mad scientist hiding in the volcano on the invisible island because he’s afraid of the creatures he’s created. Half to himself, he wonders “…if God hides in Heaven because He’s Afraid of what He created.”

“Spy Kids” explains everything, how the Kids parents (Antonio Banderas, Carla Gugino) work for the OSS, and the kid’s Uncle Machete built the tree house next to their house. You get more explanation about the Cumming and Shalhoub characters. Then truey odd stuff happens, big adventures, and it winds up ok. Takes a while, but OK. That’s nice but its not the one to start with.

Spy Kids 3” involves video games and Sylvester Stalone, not as successful in my opinion. ßtart with “2”, then watch “1”. Be happy.

If you liked “Totoro” then “Kiki’s Delivery Service” is a good second helping.

If you like “The Way Things Go“, there are two follow-ups, “Rendezvous“, “C’était un rendez-vous”, by Claude LeLouch, offers an 8 and a half minute, completely illegal, drive through Paris starting at about 5:30 am, so a man can meet his wife at Sacré-Cœur Basilica A “rendezvous”. They embrace in the headlights of his car. The whole thing is one shot, from the front of the car. What you see is the streets. The stop lights (they are red, the driver doesn’t even lift their right foot). Pidgeons. An early dog-walker, a trash truck. The route includes the courtyard of the Louve, because you used to be able to drive through it.

A second follow-up to “The Way Things Go” is “Rivers and Tides. Andy Goldsworthy Working With Time“. It starts with Goldsworthy up before the sun, in Newfoundland. He has a little cup of water and some icicles, which he breaks into short pieces with angled ends. He is using the water to glue them to a rock, then build a loop that goes out, curves, and returns to the rock. With one loop in place, he goes to the other end of the rock and makes tne next loop, higher. And back and forth. When he’s done, he steps back to take a photograph, and thats when the sun rises. The whole icicle “sewn” back and forth “through” the rock lights up like a Neon lamp. Like Steve Martin’s gag “arrow through the head”.

I had admired Goldsworthy’s work on exhibit around the Bay Area, and in books like “Hand To Earth”, but in the movie, you see an imperinant, temporal side of what he does. He builds something between the low tide and high tide mark, and the water rises and inundates it. He pins together bracken with thorns, and the little puffs of a light wind wrench it appart. All the rest of the film consists of wathching Goldsworthy go out into the wild world, make something with what he finds, take a picture, and leave it. And film of projects he did in the past. He narrates everything. Not every project succeeds. There’s a pinecone-ish shape he likes to build with stones, and he’s trying on a rocky shingle beach, and he hasn’t figured out how to use the rock. It keeps falling. Be talks about it while he works.

Another project is just jaw dropping. He’s drawn to the meandering shape of an old river on a nearly level plain, big loops that will be come oxbows, etc. He draws one in light snow on a frozen stream. He is offered a  wall in a gallery, and he builds a meander on it, using a soft, porus, material, and soaks it with water. Then he covers the whole wall with mud. So its a uniform, hand-smoothed, wall, entirely made of mud. And he lets it dry. Well, part of it dries quickly, there’s no water source under it. But part dries slowly, stays dark, and when it does, eventually dry, its immediately aparent where the meander is because the mud  that dried quickly has one characteristic set of cracking and the mud that dried slowly has a different looking cracking, and the two couldn’t be clearer in their difference. Although both are dried mud, the same dried mud. You can see the shape he wanted to show. How cool is that?

Duck’s Breath Mystery Theater on-line!


Thanks to my friend Eric Lindberg, I can report that the 45 rpm “The Ballad of Ronald McDonald“, can be found at “https://beta.prx.org/stories/14394“, from 16:00 to 19:15 or so.

and Dr. Science: 20:33 to 21:40 – the Human Brain compared to the Computer.

Also found “Household Appliances“!  https://beta.prx.org/stories/14399 = #2 Behind the Comedy, from 32:50. Sounds like the lp version from “Out of Season“, with acoustic intro, then studio, rock and roll, contents.

Here’s the complete set of Behind the Comedy:

#1  https://beta.prx.org/stories/14394

#2  https://beta.prx.org/stories/14399

#3  https://beta.prx.org/stories/14403

#4  https://beta.prx.org/stories/14405

#5  https://beta.prx.org/stories/14492

Things to know about retirement, USA, married couples.


#1  Can one spouse can retire with the other spouse’s social security benefit?

Yes, a surviving spouse can choose to use their own Social Security Insurance* (SSI) benefit OR their deceased spouse’s SSI benefit – whichever is larger. But not both. SSI was created when a many (but not all) women’s jobs were in the home, and many (but not all) men’s jobs were outside the home. The spouse working outside had an employer and cash wages, the spouse keeping the home had neither.  So a non-working spouse who had no SSI benefits on their own could continue to collect the benefit their spouse had retired on, if the spouse died.

Here’s the clever bit: If both spouses had SSI benefits, each started drawing them when they retired. If one spouse died, the survivor could switch to whichever benefit amount was larger. Say, for example, Pat and Kim both worked and both earned maximum SSI benefits. If Pat starts drawing at age 62, the amount they get is substantially less (30% in my case) than if they hung on to “Full Retirement Age” – (66 2/3 years, in my case).  If Kim keeps working, or can otherwise hold-off starting SSI benefits, Kim’s monthly benefit will be larger, even if both have at least 40 quarters of paid employment and contributed the full amount required by law, every year. Thus, Pat and Kim have different monthly benefits from SSI and always will for the rest of their lives.

IF Kim dies before Pat, Pat can change to drawing Kim’s higher monthly benefit, but can’t keep their own benefit. Pat’s old benefit simply vanishes. If Pat doesn’t want Kim’s higher benefit, they keep their own and Kim’s vanishes. If Pat dies before Kim, Kim already has the larger benefit.

So the SSI monthly payment is a benefit for a living person, but it is not an asset which can be conveyed to a person that the original recipient chooses. This is a key difference between SSI, and employee pension plans, and 401Ks and the like. 401Ks, etc., etc., are assets. There are rules about how they are used, and rules about when and what taxes are paid on them. But they are as real as any other account at an investment firm.

 

#2 Is there a minimum amount you must withdraw from a 401K, every year?

Yes. Starting when you turn 70 1/2 years old. In one example I found, its 1/26 of the value of the account, a bit less than 4%. But it is complicated and Morgan Stanley’s retirement fund people say to come talk it through with them on the way to picking a number.

See topic 4, in:

http://fa.morganstanley.com/jteam/retirement_planning_mistakes.htm

There are retirement calculators that cover this as well, with their own lore, sacrifices and mod-cons:

http://www.choosetosave.org/ballpark/webapp/#/estimate

So if you’re 61 and haven’t retired yet, you don’t have to do anything. Yet. If you are working and can pack more money into the 401K, it’s probably wise to do so. If you wonder how much your 401K is worth to you as income, now, today, and you’re less than 70 and 1/2, its likely you can take out less than 4% each year. If you take out more than it makes every year, its a “decreasing asset” and you’ll have to judge your rate of consumption vs. expected lifespan. You can look up your life expectancy, for starters:

http://www.ssa.gov/planners/lifeexpectancy.html

If your 401K is with a different investment firm, they’re who you should speak with.

 

More as I get it. I’ve foot-noted “Insurance” below.

*”Insurance” as in “Social Security Insurance” is misleading.

Conventional insurance products are based on shared risk and supposedly conservative investments. Every week, month or year, you send in your pennies, along with everyone else. All the pennies get invested wisely enough to cover whatever payouts are made over the lifetime of the product. Automobile and home products typically last 1 year, “Term” life insurance lasts for a fixed period, ending at a birthdate or some other agreed point in the future. Payments can be spread out over the term the insurance covers, or be one-time at the beginning.

“Whole” life insurance stays in force as long as the insured person is alive and the regular payments are made. The payout becomes an asset for survivors.

SSI is none of these things. If you want to start a fight, call it a modified Ponzi scheme. The money it pays out comes directly from the regular contributions collected immediately before the payout. Sort of. There need not be a pooled asset which yields profits which support payments. The term of art for this is “Pay as you go”, which is more attractive than “Ponzi Scheme”.

The details, where the devils lurk, are that a pay as you go scheme such as SSI starts with lots of contributors and no recipients. So the first funds collected did, actually, go into some investment, likely US Treasury Bonds, the most boring, safe asset. You’ll note this has the effect of retirees-to-be investing in the National Debt. Then the Baby Boom arrives and goes to work and the number of workers contributing is vastly larger than number of recipients. So the surplus continues going into bonds where it props up the National Debt.  Hiring new devils every year.

One wild-eyed argument against SSI is that NONE of the Treasury bonds will ever be sold, because actual tax dollars would have to pay them out. On the other hand, the Treasury pays bond dividends regularly, and returns the principle at the end of the bond’s life, to all the other bond holders inside and outside the USA. Does SSI surplus go into conventional “T-notes” similar to what anyone can buy, or are there conspiracy-special T-notes that pay no interest and don’t return the principle, because they exist only to suck up SSI surplus? I don’t know and I’m too busy to look it up, today.

A more plausible SSI disaster scenario is that the number of contributors won’t keep up with the number of recipients. This is the “SSI will go bankrupt” trope, and if nobody does anything about it, it will happen. Increasing the payments made by contributors or decreasing the benefits going to recipients seem like logical steps, but logic isn’t universally popular. It *could* happen. If nobody does anything about it.

So the payroll deduction is called “SSI” and it’s a gift to us from history, outdated and misleading marketing language. If we imagined we were as adult as other developed nations, we might make “SSI” part of taxes, in general, and make the payout an expense that must be paid, like our Congressperson’s retirement, medical and dental coverage.

*Fortunate* Motorcyclist survives driving off cliff


http://www.cnn.com/videos/us/2017/08/11/motorcycle-plunges-off-cliff-santa-monica-mountains-california-orig-trnd-lab.cnn/video/playlists/caught-on-camera/

My comments to CNN:

Cliff-diving motorcyclist Matthew Murray, 27, passes a “25 MPH” advisory sign in the 12th second of CNN’s video clip. This is in the 2nd run through of the crash video. In the 15th second he’s going 68 MPH as he starts to lean into the turn. He’s still going more than 50 MPH as he slides off the pavement and onto the dirt. Text on the screen says something to the effect that he “was following the turn when he thinks his steering locked up”. The video shows no such thing. He was going too fast, and could not turn sharply enough to follow the turn. He started at more than 2.5 times the advised speed. He left the pavement at 2 times the advised speed. His speed “locked” his path, not his steering.

Get the an accurate map of the curve, the size and tread pattern of the motorcycle tires and a description of the motorcycle (make, model, horsepower, brakes,weight-as-crashed) and rider (weight). Give to “Mythbusters”. Have them duplicate the failure, during deceleration, then do a binary search for the steady speed at which a motorcycle on those tires, at that weight, could follow that turn. Braking uses traction, does that change maximum speed?. Find the entry speed, before braking, that would allow the bike to make the turn. Put a GoPro on the bike for comparison pictures, and a second one showing where the front tire touches the road.

For Fire Season: Just enough about particle masks


 

http://blog.pksafety.com/respiratory-basics-n95-vs-p100/

Top 10 Bookstores in the East Bay


A nice write-up on a key subject! Omits “Dan Webb Books”, doesn’t mention “The Booktree” right across the street from “A Great Good Place For Books” but my picks belong in my list. This is theirs and I’m glad to have found it!

The writer mentions the Montclair Egg Shop as a pairing with A Great Good Place for Books. Absolutely yes! Best place I can think of to take a new book or an old friend or both.

Source: Top 10 Bookstores in the East Bay

“Testing – How does one learn QA?” – An answer I posted on the StackOverflow “Programers” forum


Ziv, the questioner asks: ” … how would one proceed if he wants to learn QA?

More specifically, a programmer who wants to learn about the QA process and how to manage a good QA methodology. I was given the role of jumpstarting a QA process in our company and I’m a bit lost, what are the different types of testing (system, integration, white box, black box) and which are most important to implement first? How would one implement them?

I wrote:

There are simple rules of thumb.

Try what the manual says. Install and run on a clean target, user license, the works. Does it work? Did you have to add anything not covered in the manual?

Are all the default control values usable? Or is there something that’s wrong, or blank, by default and always has to be changed?

Set every value in the user interface to something other than its default. Can you detect a difference caused by the change? Is it correct? Do them one at a time, or in the smallest sets possible, to make the results clear.

Set every value in the user interface to a second, non-default, value. Change everything at once. Can you detect the difference? Is it correct?

One by one, do something to cause every error message to be generated. Do something similar, but correctly, so that no error message is generated.

All of the above depend on changing a condition, between an “A” case and a “B” case, and that change having a detectable result. Then the “C” case produces another change, another result, and so forth. For 10 tests, you need 11 conditions. Using defaults as much as possible is a good first condition.

By now you’ve got a list of things to test, that you recorded, and results, that you recorded, and maybe some new bugs. Throw something big and complicated at the solution. Give it a file of 173000 words to sort, paste a Jane Austin novel or some telecommunications standard 100 pages long, a 50MB bitmap graphic, 3 hours of streaming video. Open the performance monitor and get CPU-bound, or I/O bound. For an hour. Check memory use: always increasing? Rises and falls?

Take the list of bugs closed in the last week, month, sprint, etc. Check them. All. Are they really fixed?

Keep track of what to do, how it worked on what version/release/build/configuration, open and closed bugs, what controls have been set or changed, what data, test files or examples have been used, etc. is all part of Quality world. Keep results as tables in a spread sheet, make version controlled backups / saves.

Someone writing software, or any one creating anything, has an idea of what they’re trying to make. The quality process starts with expectations. Requirements, specifications, rules, or another articulation of what’s expected. Then there’s the solution, the thing offered to perform, assist, enable or automate what’s expected. Then there are tests, operations, examples, inspections, measurements, questionnaires, etc., to relate one or more particular solution(s) to (relevant) expectations. Finally, there’s an adjustment, compensation, tuning, correction or other positive action that is hoped to affect the solution(s).

When one writes software, one has a goal of it doing something, and to the extent that’s expressed, the behavior can be checked. Hello.exe displays “Hello World” on a screen. “2**150” in the Python interpreter displays, “1427247692705959881058285969449495136382746624L”. Etc. For small problems and small solutions, its possible to exhaustively test for expected results. But you wouldn’t test a word processor just by typing in some words, or even whole documents. There are limits of do-ability and reason. If you did type in all of “Emma” by Jane Austin, would you have to try her other four novels? “Don Quixote” in Spanish?

Hence an emphasis on expectations. Meeting expectations tells you when the solution is complete. My web search for “Learn Quality Assurance” just returned 46 million potential links, so there’s no shortage of opinions. Classic books on the subject (my opinion, worth what you paid for it:) include

  • Quality is Free” by Philip Crosby,
  • Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” by Robert Pursig
  • Managing the Software Process” by Watts Humphrey
  • “The Mythical Man Month” by Fred Brooks
  • Code Complete” by Steve McConnell

Take 5 minutes to read some of the Amazon reviews of those books and you’ll be on your way. Get one or more and read them. They’re not boring. Browse ASQ, Dr. Dobbs, Stack Overflow. Above all, just like writing software. DO it. Consider the quality of some software under your control. Does it meet expectation? If so, firm hand-shake and twinkle in the eye. Excellent!. If not, can it be corrected? Move to the next candidate.

I like the Do-Test-Evaluate-Correct loop, but its not a Universal Truth. Pick a process and follow it consciously. Have people try the testing, verification and validation steps described in the language manual they use most frequently. Its right there on their desk, or in their phone’s browser.

Look at your expectations. Are they captured in a publicly known place? With revision control? Does anyone use them? Is there any point where the solutions being produced are checked against the expectations they are supposed to be meeting?

Look at your past and current bug reports. (You need a bug tracking system. If you don’t have one, start there.) What’s the most common catastrophic bug that stops shipment or requires an immediate patch? Whats the most commonly reported customer bug? What’s the most common bug that doesn’t get fixed?

Take a look at ISO 9000 process rules. Reflect on value to your customers/users. Is there’s a “customer value statement” that explains how some change affects the customer’s perception of the value of the solution? How about in the requirements?

By “the QA process”, you could mean “Quality Assurance”, versus “QC”, “Quality Control”? You might start with the http://www.ASQ.org web site, where the “American Society for Quality” dodges the question by not specifying “Control” (their old name was “ASQC”) or “Assurance”.

Quality; alone, “assured” or “controlled”, is a big idea with multiple, overlapping definitions and usages. Some will tell you it cannot be measured in degrees- its present or not, no “high quality” or “low quality” for them. Another famous claim is that no definition is satisfactory, so its good to talk about it, but avoid being pinned down in a precise definition. How do you feel about it?

 

The original posting is at http://programmers.stackexchange.com/questions/255583/how-does-one-learn-qa/255595#255595

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Father’s day tides at Moss Beach:


Here’s the tide table for this coming weekend at Moss Beach, just north of Princeton By The Sea, at the north edge of Half Moon Bay. High tide, +6 feet, at Midnight between Friday and Saturday, 1:00am between Saturday and Sunday. Low, low, tides at 7:00am, -1.5 feet!! on Saturday, -1.25 feet, at 7:48am, Sunday.
So, by crackie, we’ll be there as early as we an on Sunday. Sunrise is before 6:00am, so no shortage of light. Do a web search and you’ll discover this place has the best tidepools that ever existed- perhaps 1/4 mile or more along the coast, as much as 200 yards off shore of the normal high tide mark. A huge shelf of very low quality rock, normally around or perhaps a bit below the 0 foot level, that will be a good foot above sea level on Sunday Morning.

An example that pleased me: The difference between an abstract class and an interface, in Java:


Here’s the punch line:

In Java, Prussia can extend (“be a”) one of the super-classes, Holy, Roman or  Empire, but only one. Prussia can implement the other two as interfaces, but only with methods and fields uniquely its own. If Prussia is to be Holy, be Roman and be an Empire, the strictly hierarchical relationship of those three super-classes has to be worked out separately and in detail, in advance. I can only imagine Herr von Bismark would approve.

 

And the whole magilla:
1) What is the difference between an interface and an abstract class?

An abstract class defines data (fields) and member functions but may not, itself, be instantiated. Usually, some of the methods of an abstract class are abstract and expected to be supplied by a sub-class, but some of the methods are defined.  Unless they are final, they can be overridden, and they can always be overloaded. Private parts of an abstract super class, for example, data, are not available to a subclass, so access methods (public or protected) must be used by the subclass. An abstract superclass is “extended” by a subclass. A given subclass may only extend one super-class, but a super-class may extend another super-class, in a hierarchy. (This avoids the complexities/difficulties of multiple inheritance in C++)

An interface is a proper subset of an abstract class, but has a different scope and use. An interface has ONLY abstract member functions and static, final, fields, aka constants. Any subclass has to provide all the variable fields and code which implements an interface. The implementing class cannot override the interface’s member signatures – the signatures are what the interface *is*. It is possible to overload an interface’s signatures, adding or subtracting variables, changing return or variable types, but the overloads do not satisfy the requirements of the interface. The implementing class(s) must contain actual member functions to satisfy all of the signatures in the interface, because there is no default, no code in the interface.  As used above, a given class ‘implements’ an interface, it does not ‘extend’ it. These limitations to an interface allow a given class to implement more than one, which retains most of the utility of multiple inheritance without, as it were, opening Plethora’s bag. (grin)

For example: In Java, Prussia can extend (“be a”) one of the super-classes, Holy, Roman or  Empire, but only one. Prussia can implement the other two as interfaces with methods and fields uniquely its own. If Prussia is to be Holy, be Roman and be an Empire, the strictly hierarchical relationship of those three super-classes has to be worked out separately and in detail, in advance. I can only imagine Herr von Bismark would approve.