The end of Guinness

Guinness Pint

Guinness Pint (Photo credit: Stephen Edgar – Netweb)

We discussed it at length and decided that we didn’t want one. We had one at our previous place which disappeared causing us to both be very upset. It was cute, but messy, especially when the woman from the letting agent came around to inspect the place.

The very next day after we made our decision, there was a knock at the door.

My family was outside bearing exactly what we decided we didn’t want, a kitten. It was the tiniest ball of fur you have ever laid eyes on, no bigger than a mouse. Jet black in colour with dainty white feet and a white bib under her chin. Her most distinctive feature was her eyebrows. They were fine, silvery white and arced out high above her head. We fell in love instantly.

“What are we going to call her?” asked my wife.

She offered a few unconvincing kittens names but I wasn’t persuaded. The name needed to fit and as she lay on her back on the floor with her white paws  up, she resembled a miniature pint of Guinness and so she was christened.

We were a bit worried at first because we already had a kitten called Tommy in the house that a friend asked us to look after whilst she was away. Tommy was twice the size of Guinness and was strong-arming her as they played. We needn’t have worried though because what Guinness lacked in size, she made up for in spirit. After they played for a short while, Guinness got the upper hand and from that point on, there was no more bullying.

Guinness was with us for a long time and it’s fair to say she had her fair share of quirks. Like she chose to use the dirt tray that lay just outside the bathroom in a particularly smelly manner when I was relaxing in the bath. She also would choose to noisily slurp out of my cup of water on the bedside table when we were trying to sleep. I used to say to my wife that I would die of some vile horrible cat disease because of the shared cup. She was incredibly good when any children came round, patiently allowing them to tug, prod and poke her with barely any protest.

But after 17 years, we returned to our home to find Guinness very sick indeed in my mother in law’s arms. She wouldn’t eat or drink. She couldn’t walk. We took her to the vets and the news wasn’t good.

Guinness is no more, which is sad. Very sad.

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Quality

English: A standard measuring tape.

English: A standard measuring tape. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Your dad’s wasted his money.” came the solemn assessment from my uncle as he handed the package back to me.

His reaction puzzled me because dad was obviously very happy with his purchase. In the pack, there were a number of different tools; a hammer, a set of screwdrivers, a tape measure and various other tools. We were always struggling to find the right tool when we needed it and here we had a whole set in a purpose made carrying pouch. They were cheap too.

How could two people have such different reactions about the same item? It took a while before I understood that it was all down to quality. For a while, I thought that quality was an inherent feature of an item. Some items were of high quality, others were complete tat and everything else lay in between the two.

But quality is much more subtle than that. An item can be classed as a quality item if it conforms to the user’s requirements. So quality is not a feature of an item at all, it is much more related to the user and their requirements. Hence my uncle’s assessment differing from my dad’s.

My uncle was a tradesman. He used tools for a living, all day, every day. For him, two of his top requirements were durability and reliability. He needed his tools to last a long time and he needed them to work every single time.

Dad used tools occasionally when he was doing a bit of DIY around the house or when he had some flat packed furniture to assemble. His top requirements were value for money and comprehensiveness. If the tools let him down, it would not be the end of the world.

Understanding the requirements of the user is of vital importance in any project. If you don’t know what the user wants, how on Earth are you going to make sure you have met them? If the requirements are absent or incomplete, the temptation is to unconsciously use your own inbuilt requirements as a yardstick and they might be very different indeed.

This is hard enough in the world of the physical. When it comes to the ethereal world of computer systems, it is even more important to make sure that there is a set of comprehensive requirements describing what the user expects. After all, one man’s bug is another man’s feature.

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