The Blogging Imperative

I periodically find myself questioning the extent to which it makes sense to blog. I find it’s healthy to go through these periods of reflection and introspection. I often find it’s even healthier to expose these thoughts to others.

What’s prompting this is that I recently revisited a book that brought back a quote from J.D. Salinger. Ths is in Seymour: An Introduction, where he describes the trick to writing:

“Ask yourself, as a reader, what piece of writing in all the world … would [you] most want to read if [you] had [your] heart’s choice. The next step is terrible, but so simple I can hardly believe it as I write it. You just sit down shamelessly and write the thing yourself.”

That pretty much describes my blog career in a nutshell. I simply write what I wish I was reading more of. But there’s a challenge here.

Every once in awhile you find people on LinkedIn quoting an article of yours (whether in agreement or disagreement). You find someone who Tweets out one of your articles. And then start to feel like you are writing for others rather than yourself. And, for me at least, that gets tricky.

I certainly want to have topics be relevant, the structure conducive to learning, the pace (of all posts) and scope (of each post) appropriate, a focus on practical examples immediately useful to people’s career and practice but backed up by some theory, and — most importantly — not just regurgitating the same exact stuff you see on many test blogs or hear at many test conferences.

I want to cause some cognitive friction. I want people to see that testing is probably more complex than they believe but it’s not as complicated as they often fear.

But there’s a problem. And the problem is most definitely with me.

I vacillate from having way too many ideas to having none at all. My whole blog career, if such it can be called, has been about the former, which is why many of my blog posts tend to be long. Sometimes I fear the posts end up so long that some core ideas get lost. That leaves it hard for people to decide whether my ideas and how I presented them are charming personality quirks or glaring character flaws.

Taking a cue from the book Not a Chance: God, Science, and the Revolt against Reason, a key skill in a society that requires critical thinking is to learn to distinguish between the “unbridled ravings of fools” and the “serious protests of the learned.” Interestingly, that can sometimes be difficult. Especially with bloggers. Especially when they are blogging about testing.

Another problem is reflected in a sentiment from A Different Universe: Reinventing Physics From the Bottom Down:

”There are two conflicting primal impulses of the human mind: one to simplify a thing to its essentials, the other to see through the essentials to the greater implications. This conflict is not just perception, it’s also physical. The natural world is regulated both by the essentials and by powerful principles of organization that flow out of them. These principles are transcendent, in that they would continue to hold even if the essentials were changed slightly. Nature consists simultaneously of primitive elements and stable, complex organizational structures that form from them.”

This is a large challenge not just of testing but of computing science itself. And, yes, I say “computing” science in the sense that Edsger Dijkstra argued that we are never doing computer science but rather computing science. Dijkstra was essentially arguing that the computer was an outgrowth of a perspective on the world, a way of contending with reality. Computing was what we actually did; that’s where the science was at. And likewise, we don’t really have “test science”, but we have “testing science.”

Testing — like most topics that end with “ing”, such as computing — is a few things at once. Consider that testing is (1) a problem; (2) a class of solution methods that work well on the problem; and (3) the field that studies this problem and its solution methods. That’s a single name for three things and while that makes sense up to a point, specialist testers know very well that the three are conceptually separate.

That conceptual separation can make things a bit complex. Not complicated necessarily; but complex. This quote from The Historical Figure of Jesus by E.P. Sanders rings true for me:

“While I was writing, I was aware that the pages of introductory material were piling up. Despite my intention to reduce them, they steadily increased in number from draft to draft. I still wish that the reader could get to the heart of the matter more quickly, but I think that the introductory chapters are necessary.”

As anyone looking at my blog will note, “getting to the heart of the matter” is not something I could be credited with. Blog-wise, what I present is not any sort of well-organized construct wherein someone is led through a tangle of (so-called) “facts” and concepts about testing, all of which lead you to some inescapable conclusion of mine.

My goal has to been to provide material that allows you to spend a “not too long but not too short” amount of time profitably focusing your mind on a few — perhaps novel — ways of thinking about testing, and by extension other kinds of knowledge as well, whether that be physics, politics, game design, history, etc.

Somewhere buried in all this I may even have a few crucial ideas. When I feel I have, I try to repeat them in slightly different ways from different angles to add up to what I hope is a novel perspective. And, again, a large part of that is my desire to not simply repeat things that you can read in dozens or books or dozens of other blogs.

Yet sometimes I feel akin to a sentiment mentioned in Robert Silverberg’s Across a Billion Years:

“We’re all looking for a lost toy. We are fighting that force in the universe that nudges everything toward chaos. We are at war with time; we are enemies of entropy; we seek to snatch back those things that have been taken from us by the years out of this deep need to not let anything slip away.”

My blog actually started as a way for me to talk to myself. (Which sounds kind of pathetic when I write it out.) This was my own war with time; a way to get my thoughts out there, before they slipped away, so I could figure out my own thinking. The making it all public part was simply because I figured if it was all out there, where anyone can read it, I have to at least believe it to some degree and be willing to defend whatever idea I was talking about or be willing to throw it away.

I started off my blogging career with this sentiment by Shing-Tung Yau in mind:

“The road is long, the view obscured,
with thousands of threads entangled.”

The road will always be long. My goal of making the view less obscure, and untangling some of the threads, continues.


This article was written by Jeff Nyman

Anything I put here is an approximation of the truth. You're getting a particular view of myself ... and it's the view I'm choosing to present to you. If you've never met me before in person, please realize I'm not the same in person as I am in writing. That's because I can only put part of myself down into words. If you have met me before in person then I'd ask you to consider that the view you've formed that way and the view you come to by reading what I say here may, in fact, both be true. I'd advise that you not automatically discard either viewpoint when they conflict or accept either as truth when they agree.

One thought on “The Blogging Imperative”

  1. Oh, how very true!

    Salinger’s You just sit down shamelessly and write the thing yourself was the inspiration for my first book and probably also covers all the writing projects I’ve got lined up for the next ten years or (hopefully) more. Though it rather goes against the quote from Dr. Samuel Johnson: No one but a fool ever wrote for anything but money. Perhaps that’s why my books haven’t made money so far; I’ve been writing the stuff I want to see rather than anything others will want to read. On the other hand, that does make reaction to what I have written all the more precious, welcome and heart-warming.

    And then you said I vacillate from having way too many ideas to having none at all. My whole blog career, if such it can be called, has been about the former, which is why many of my blog posts tend to be long. This is the problem with blogging, especially if your everyday life isn’t full of danger and excitement and wild things happening. I think most bloggers go through this at one point or another. I swing from having nothing to blog about to having two or three ideas stacking up. Right now, I have one post on the new EU copyright proposals that I’m still swinging between completely agreeing with (as a one-time content provider who has had material lifted) and tending to oppose (because I keep enjoying mashup memes online that have almost certainly used copyright material without the owner’s permission). My sense of guilt prevents me from holding the personal moral high ground; and I’m not seeing so much reaction to this online that I’m coming down on one side or another.

    I also have a second blog post which I’ve been gestating for a good few years on how Agile thinking could spill over into politics and everyday life, which I swing wildly from believing it to be the answer to the world’s ills to being the most ridiculous idea ever (and back again). And whilst I vacillate, I come across more arguments to support my idea, and the draft blog gets ever longer and possibly less coherent. Good grief, it might even turn into another book.

    (And then we’re into the scenario where George III reacted to being presented with a copy of Edward Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire:
    Another book, eh, Mr. Gibbon? Scribble, scribble, scribble, Mr. Gibbon?)

    We are fortunate that we live at a time where the exchange of ideas is so easy. Yet at the same time, that very ease results in the individual voice being drowned out by all the others – and that’s before you even begin to consider the value of any of that content. But at least now we can record our ideas and have others see and debate them, even if that debate is restricted to a handful of supporters. The more this is done, the more any idea can spread, if only slowly.

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