What a picture can tell you – an exercise

Shortly after I posted the pictorial challenge on my blog, I had a conversation with Thomas Ponnet on Twitter:

ThomasPonnet: I could srt deconstructing but 4 wht reason? So far thr’s no context so therefore thr cnt B a story IMO. Interesting though

TestSideStory: I think there are clues in the pic that might give some context away.It’s just an exercise in seeing/interpreting signs imo

ThomasPonnet: I’m difficult on purpose 😉 w/out context, no, w/out oracle I can’t infer, I can only guess, do testers do that? Yes,for fun

TestSideStory: Testers do guess. They call that making an hypothesis 🙂 Then they see where they get from there.

About the hypothesis thing: I meant that when I said it. We make guesses all the time. We make hypotheses, we assume some things and we act accordingly. We perform experiments to see whether we can confirm our hypotheses. If not, time to re-model. 

We construct models in our mind, but are these models ever correct? And even if they prove to be incorrect, that is often more useful than  having no models at all. Remember the old adagio “when you’re lost, any old map will do” .

Back to the challenge. Quite a lot of people visited, but no-one actually rose to the challenge, which leads me to assume that people either :

  • were confused
  • were not interested
  • didn’t see the point
  • didn’t have the time
  • couldn’t care less

After this sobering insight I decided to eat my own dog food and have a go at it myself. Click on the thumbnail for a larger resolution picture.

Can we derive any context from this picture?

On the denotation side: it’s just a little boy is sitting on top of a house. We only see the upper floor. On the balcony, there’s a little blue bike, a blue baby bath, a blue screen door to keep the mosquitoes out, a birdcage with two birds in it, a pot with a plant and some broken but repaired windows. On top, we see two old publicity signs. One says “Zanchetti”, the other is only partially visible and reads “La Mejor Ropa de Tr…”

Any connotations? Situational context? La mejor ropa… Ropa means clothing or clothes in Spanish. So the publicity signs seem to point us to a  spanish-speaking country. Somewhere in Mexico, maybe? Or Spain? Latin-America? South-America? 

Let’s google the two terms on the signs.

Zanchetti mejor ropa de

Mmm… primarily hits from Argentina, some from Chile and Colombia too. Maybe we should narrow down the search. The two signs seem to belong together, so Zanchetti is probably a clothing factory. Let’s try another search and see what happens.

Zanchetti ropa

The first result from this search leads us to an “indumentaria online” (clothing online) site (thanks, Google translate!), which basically seems to be a collection of stores that sell working clothes. So we can also complete the publicity signs by now: “Zanchetti, la mejor ropa de trabajo”. The last store in the list rings a bell:

ZANCHETTI HNOS.
Vieytes 1876 (1275) Bs.As.

The Zanchetti brothers are in Argentina, allright. Buenos Aires, to be exact. Enter Google Maps, that trusted friend for the geographically challenged.

This is the result.

Note that the address shown isn’t actually Vieytes 1876, which is a smaller street in an other part of the city.

Of course, we can’t just assume that Vieytes 1876 is the address where the picture was taken. Publicity signs are typically constructed on tall buildings in commercial areas, not too far from the neighborhood of the business itself.

The building looks old, and the publicity signs are weary, almost from decades ago. On an other clothing website, it says that the Zanchetti brothers started their business in 1962. It sure looks like it stems from that era. The fact that they once decided to place the signs here, indicates that this probably used to be a big commercial or industrial site. The faded signs also suggest that this area is no longer mainstream, and deteriorating. The building looks like a residential building now, so its function may have changed over time. Could it be that this once was a thriving part of the city, but that the city has now evolved elsewhere, leaving this area to deteriorate?

In spite of the building, the boy on top of the roof doesn’t look poor. He is meticulously dressed in what looks like a sports outfit. This may indicate that his parents are not too wealthy, but that they take pride in giving their children the best life possible (or this indicates that the boy is a small time drug dealer succesfullysupporting himself – but I give him the benefit of the doubt). He looks comfortable up there, as if this is his usual hide-out/vantage point. He’s ignoring the rooftop view, probably because he’s pretty familiar with the surroundings. 

The blue bicycle stowed away on the balcony is likely the boy’s, and the fact that it’s up there and not downstairs ready for use, is maybe an indication that the boy and his family only live in (or own) the upper floor. This probably means that there’s not too much room in the apartment. So maybe the rooftop is where he goes to have some time for himself. He sure looks a bit lonely up there.

But there’s other interesting stuff on the balcony.

The blue baby bath. It indicates that there is at least one other (younger) child in the family. We can’t say for sure if it’s still a baby. After all, the bath could be an old one, waiting to be discarded. 

The blue screen doors with what appears to be children’s stickers on the inside. The bird cage with what looks like parakeets (there is towel on top of the cage, which indicates that they are covered up at night and spend the night outside too). The broken and poorly mended glass in the doors. All these things imply a rather poor but caring and happy family.

Any things I missed?

A pictorial challenge: Deconstruction / Denotation / Connotation

I’ve been thinking about deconstruction (a term first introduced by the French philosopher Jacques Derrida) and its applicability to software testing lately. According to wikipedia, this is

an approach used in literary analysis, philosophy or other fields to discover the meaning of something to the point of exposing the supposed contradictions and internal oppositions upon which it is founded – showing that those foundations are irreducibly complex, unstable, or impossible. 

Deconstruction is also an essential part of semiotics and media studies, where it is used to pick images apart through the use of fine detail. We are surrounded by images in every day life, and we think we are able to read and understand everything we see, taking our visual literacy and cognitive abilities for granted. Deconstructing can help us to understand our decoding processes and how we derive meaning from all that surrounds us.

Within deconstruction, we have denotations and connotations. 

  • A ‘denotation’ is the first level of signification, a literal meaning on a basic, dictionary level. This is the ‘obvious’ or ‘commonsense’ meaning of something for someone: this thing is pink, it is a bicycle.
  • The term ‘connotation’ is at the second level of signification. It refers to ‘personal’ associations (ideological, emotional) and is typically related to the interpreter’s class, age, gender, ethnicity and so on. Connotations are numerous, and vary from reader to reader. The above mentioned bicycle is rather small, so it probably belongs to a teenager. It is pink, so perhaps it is a girl’s. But it is flashy and eyecatching too and might therefore connote that its owner is just an extrovert. If you once fell off a bicycle, you may even associate this bicycle with negativity and pain.

I think a large part of what we do as testers is deconstructing, in a way. We try to make sense of something by uncovering meaning (intended or unintended). We aim to derive meaning from different angles. We deconstruct by applying factoring (Michael Bolton defined this as “listing all the dimensions that may be relevant to testing it”) to objects, images and software – it can be useful to list as many different hypotheses as possible.

So, what about *your* deconstructing skills?

Since testers do seem to like challenges – here’s one for you all to enjoy.

Click on the thumbnail for a larger picture.

What can you find out about this picture?

What does it tell you?

What story does it tell?

Can you derive context?

What are you assuming? Why?

Which heuristics did you use?

I’m not revealing the copyright details just yet – no spoilers. Additional info will be added later. Enjoy!