Monkey chain

I discovered the term “metal monkey” today and found myself quite amused. Though it sounds like a term a barfly might use in requesting the next round of shots for his compatriots, the metal monkey turns out to be a Chinese astrological symbol, an apt subject for today’s Chinese New Year.

Metal monkeys are like testers in that they are:

  • inquisitive in the extreme, needing continual stimulation to keep themselves interested and amused
  • highly adaptable and versatile
  • enthusiastic about everything, spending time broadening their minds
  • inventive and intelligent, solving most problems quickly and skillfully
  • assimilating facts, figures, skills, and techniques quickly
  • passionate, demonstrative, strong, sophisticated, and independent

Another interesting aspect of the Chinese astrological calendar is that the element metal and the animal monkey correspond not just to years but also to days within years:

Once in two months, in the night of a Metal Monkey day (according to the sexagenary cycle in the Chinese calendar), while one sleeps, the three demons leave the body and go to the Heavenly god and report to him the sins of the person they inhabit. Then the Heavenly god shortens one’s life span according to one’s bad deeds.
Annie Pecheva

Here is another aspect of the 3 monkeys that mirrors what testers do: report on the failures of the whole to the powers that be. Now, we don’t want to be termed demons, so we must do this respectfully but honestly. We must also be careful to focus on what is most important or be accused of nothing better than random or automated testing.

See no evil, Hear no evil, Speak no evil

Ford! There’s an infinite number of monkeys outside who want to talk to us about this script for Hamlet they’ve worked out.
– The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

In contrast, monkeys are also used to reference randomly producing input, both for the infinite monkey theorem, in which monkeys on typewriters (or rather “an abstract device that produces a random sequence of letters and symbols ad infinitum”) produce Shakespeare, and for software testing. For programmers, a monkey test is a unit test that runs with no specific test in mind. For software testers, a manual monkey test would be on-the-fly random application tests that ignore typical usage. An automated “dumb monkey test” would be an automated testing tool sending random input to the application through the user interface, which although at first seeming to have little value can produce hangs or crashes in applications, “i.e. the bugs you least want to have in your software product.”

For user experience professionals, a wireframe monkey merely churns out rapid prototypes rather than performing ideation and problem solving. Yet another mindless monkey.

Given the choice between monkeys, I myself would prefer to be metal.

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