Thursday, 20 October 2011

Sat Navs and Maps

The following blog article is based upon a lightening talk I gave at the Software Testing Club Meet Up in Winchester on the 19th Oct 2011.

I have recently been on holiday touring the Yorkshire dales, moors – covering over 1000 miles in one week. The car is fitted with a sat nav which is great when we want to get from A to B but also I have in the car a large scale map of the UK. I started to think about how we use these two ‘tools’ and how this could be used within testing to show the difference between following a set of instructions (scripts) and exploring the countryside (ET)

An example is that both have the same goal (mission) I want to get from A to B. However we use Sat Navs to show us the most direct, quickest, fastest way (some Sat Navs do now have an option for scenic route)

So I set off into the Yorkshire moors using the large scale map (my wife being the navigator), we knew where we wanted to end up, but the route we took was through the back of beyond. (In fact one the roads we ended up on did not even appear on the Sat Nav map (saying we must return to a digitized area – bug?) We explored the areas and when we noticed things that appeared interesting we took a detour and explored these areas. It was wonderful experience and we found places of interest that were outstanding in natural beauty along with all the seasons in one day (sun, rain, hail). At the end of the journey we had discovered some great things but still ended up at the place we wanted to be, yes it took more time (slightly) but we found out more.

My point is that if you stick to using the sat nav you end up at the same place but you may miss so much that is interesting. Now can we compare this to testing? Yes a script ‘may’ be useful from getting you from A to B but how much will you discover, how many surprises will you find? Yes I could repeat the same journey again since we have the map and know the route I took. Would I want to repeat the exact same route? I am sure that if I went to that area again I would be tempted to go a slightly different way since there could be things around the corner that may interest me.

Rob Lambert pointed out the following to me:

“I find the sat nav is a safety and re assurance aid also in that i can explore but then turn the sat nav on, or refer to it, to then return to a known route.”

I would question this is the sense that it could lead to a false sense of security. What happens if the map gets corrupted, or the electronics fail? I would tend to think of the paper map as the safety, reassurance rather than the sat nav which may have a tendency to fail.

With regards to the meet up in Winchester - I wish more people would have come along they missed a great evening of testing discussions with Michael Bolton being on top form. There are plans to have a regualr bi-monthly meet up in Winchester in the near future - watch out for an announcement via the software testing club soon.


  1. John, seems like we had some similar observations - I noted some experiences with satnav here.

    An interesting point for me was the difference between focussed attention (concentrating on the map in unfamiliar territory) and stimulated attention (as you become familiar with surroundings you might use the map more as a guide) - lots of comparisons to "scripted execution" and ET there...

  2. Hi,

    Nice post and thanks for doing a great talk at the Meetup. I agree you are right to question the "re-assurance" a Sat Nav can bring, but the point I'm making is that it's another source of information that could build confidence in people’s willingness to try something new.

    A few years back we were walking in the Lake District on a well-trodden route. We had a map. The map was fairly new but we soon realised it was out of date. It led us down the wrong track and we got stuck above a river with no obvious way down. We were tired, frustrated and panicked. It was getting dark, we had no map led path down, we had no-one around to help. We just kept heading down the hill toward to town in the distance, through boggy marsh-land and over steep drops. We made it down; tired and relieved. The paper map had partially failed us, or we'd mis-read the instructions. It gave us confidence to try the route, but not the guidance we needed to complete is as expected.

    Maps or Sat Nav devices; it makes no difference, they could be wrong. It's an aid. Information sources, which may, or may not, make us feel more re-assured.

    I met someone in India who had been travelling with no map. He took whichever route he fancied. He explored India for two years. He didn't care if he got lost. In fact, I think that was what he was seeking. I on the other hand had instructions, directions, phone numbers, travel insurance, back up money and anything else that would make the journey more re-assuring. I had different needs to the traveller.

    In Spain this year we had a Sat Nav and no physical map. With the Sat Nav on we would set our end target destination, but along the way we would drive down routes which took our fancy, safe in the knowledge (maybe false knowledge) that we would be able to find our way back out. It gave me a level of assurance and security that I could find my way back home.

    I think some people are becoming blind to their senses and simply following directions. I know many people don't have maps in the car and some turn their Sat Nav on to get to and from a known place of work.

    There are countless stories of people following Sat Nav instructions and driving off cliffs, into rivers and down one-way streets. Google maps have been blamed for people getting hit by traffic. (; there's an element of people putting too much trust in guides, and ignoring the very human elements that typically prevent accidents like this.

    I agree that it's potentially a false sense of security but so too is reliance on any one source of guidance.

    Roads, towns and cities change meaning many guides, maps and systems will be out of date. One of the benefits of digital devices is the ease in which they can be updated.

    There's a classic story/myth of a Tribe leader who was responsible for giving the Hunter's a map of where to find animals for food. Each day this leader would get a piece of leather, soak it in water and then leave it in the sun to dry. The leather would crack and warp and a series of lines would form. A map. The hunter's would use this map to find food. It wasn't an accurate reflection of the land, but it gave them assurance, from a person who they trusted and most of the time it worked.

    Some people feel more comfortable with certain mediums too. For example, some people don't use physical maps. They've grown up in a digital age. So an element of security comes from what feels natural or trusted (whether proven or not). Some people have more faith in guidance devices than their own skills at interpreting a map.

    I think it's a fascinating subject and lots of scope for comparison to the work we do in Testing but we should be aware that some people need more assurance than others and some people (rightly or wrongly) need more guidance from people/devices they trust. :)

    Just some thoughts. Rob :)