Archive for April, 2011

Bug Opens Doors In New Zealand

Friday, April 29th, 2011 by The Director

Not metaphorical doors. The real doors:

A computer glitch at a New Zealand supermarket led to its doors being opened despite being officially closed, allowing shoppers to walk away with free groceries, The (London) Times reports.

At 8am Friday, the New Zealand supermarket’s computerized system opened its doors and switched on its lights, ready for business as usual. The only problem was nobody had actually told the computer it was Good Friday, a day when supermarkets in New Zealand don’t open, and there was not a checkout person in sight.

That didn’t stop the locals in the North Island city of Hamilton, and soon the Pak ‘n Save aisles were as busy as any normal day, although shoppers were filling their carts and walking straight past the checkout to their cars.

To be honest, this sounds like more of a configuration issue than an actual software bug. Hopefully, the list of holidays and dates would be configurable in any regard. However, we’re reading a story on an Australian Web site that recounts what was reported in a London newspaper, so everything, from the actual occurrence to the reasons behind it, is suspect.

However, it does lend itself to something of a lesson for QA: If your software/embedded systems are to be used around the world, how familiar are you with the processes and impacts in your target markets? You could do like Trisherino does and study from a high level a different country each week, but most importantly, you need to understand practical considerations of your target markets, including character sets and calendars, to test effectively.

The Race Condition Is Not To The Swift; These Guys Are Swift

Thursday, April 28th, 2011 by The Director

Two sellers on Amazon dance to the beats of their own algorithm:

A few weeks ago a postdoc in my lab logged on to Amazon to buy the lab an extra copy of Peter Lawrence’s The Making of a Fly – a classic work in developmental biology that we – and most other Drosophila developmental biologists – consult regularly. The book, published in 1992, is out of print. But Amazon listed 17 copies for sale: 15 used from $35.54, and 2 new from $1,730,045.91 (+$3.99 shipping).

I sent a screen capture to the author – who was appropriate amused and intrigued. But I doubt even he would argue the book is worth THAT much.

At first I thought it was a joke – a graduate student with too much time on their hands. But there were TWO new copies for sale, each be offered for well over a million dollars. And the two sellers seemed not only legit, but fairly big time (over 8,000 and 125,000 ratings in the last year respectively). The prices looked random – suggesting they were set by a computer. But how did they get so out of whack?

When you’re building something that reacts to events in the cloud, you’re going to get some strange events. You’ll need to consider some alternative workflows, such as unreliable input and buggy software dependencies.

Because this example shows another “Never” happening.

(Link seen on Twitter.)

Strange Things Are Afoot At The Circle C

Wednesday, April 27th, 2011 by The Director

Someone in Epson’s marketing department is a little confused:

Uh, wrong IP symbol, guys.

Click for full size

That’s the registered trademark symbol standing in for the copyright symbol, who snuck down to the loading dock for a cigarette.

Here’s a little primer on intellectual property symbols for you. Note that it does not include the Sound Recording Copyright Symbol, the circled P. But if you spot that symbol, brother, you’re an expert.

New Testing Planet Is Available In PDF

Tuesday, April 26th, 2011 by The Director

Issue 4, March 2011.

Yeah, I’m in it.

Who Proofreads Your Text Files?

Tuesday, April 26th, 2011 by The Director

If you’re anything like Pinnacle Systems, the answer is either “Nobody.” or “The same person who wrote it, using the same rules of !grammar.”

Grammar errors in a readme file
Click for full size

Your organization does realize that these are written communications akin to actual documentation, doesn’t it?

Oh, who are we kidding, of course they don’t. They leave it to developers to jot something down here and expect it will never be seen.

Why don’t you snoop around and see how it’s done? At the very least, it will make you look busy. At the very best, you can help further mask how functionally illiterate many of your co-workers are (or cover better that things are not written by native language speakers).

Do You Feel Lucky, QA?

Monday, April 25th, 2011 by The Director

What do lucky people have in common with QA? Openness:

Recently I came upon a fascinating study by Richard Wiseman, a psychologist at the University of Hertfordshire. Wiseman surveyed a number of people and, through a series of questionnaires and interviews, determined which of them considered themselves lucky—or unlucky. He then performed an intriguing experiment: He gave both the “lucky” and the “unlucky” people a newspaper and asked them to look through it and tell him how many photographs were inside. He found that on average the unlucky people took two minutes to count all the photographs, whereas the lucky ones determined the number in a few seconds.

How could the “lucky” people do this? Because they found a message on the second page that read, “Stop counting. There are 43 photographs in this newspaper.” So why didn’t the unlucky people see it? Because they were so intent on counting all the photographs that they missed the message. Wiseman noted,

“Unlucky people miss chance opportunities because they are too focused on looking for something else. They go to parties intent on finding their perfect partner, and so miss opportunities to make good friends. They look through the newspaper determined to find certain job advertisements and, as a result, miss other types of jobs. Lucky people are more relaxed and open, and therefore see what is there, rather than just what they are looking for.”

That’s rather what a good tester does, too. Instead of just monkey testing and checking the conditions included in a test case, the proper tester keeps open to the gestalt and identifies things that are wrong elsewhere, even when those problems reflect problems with the overlying assumptions and systems.

So does that make QA lucky?

(Link seen on here. I forget where I got that link.)

QA Music: A Blues Selection

Monday, April 25th, 2011 by The Director

Blue Blood Blues by The Dead Weather. What, blues in the title doesn’t make it blues?

Two Minute QAte: Automated Link Checkers

Friday, April 22nd, 2011 by The Director

Do you think your automated link checker performs a comprehensive review of your Web site? Think again. This episode of Two Minute QAte explores some of the limitations of automated link checking tools.

What Does Your Software Do On A Sunny Day?

Thursday, April 21st, 2011 by The Director

That is, what happens when the cloud blows away? Never happen? Well, it hasn’t so far today:

Cloud computing is all very well until someone trips over a wire and the whole thing goes dark.

Reddit, Foursquare and Quora were among the sites affected by Amazon Web Services suffering network latency and connectivity errors this morning, according to the company’s own status dashboard.

Amazon says performance issues affected instances of its Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) service and its Relational Database Service, and it’s “continuing to work towards full resolution”. These are hosted in its North Virginia data centre.

I always include test cases that deal with instances where the server isn’t there, where the database isn’t there, and where other pieces of infrastructure are unavailable. What happens when your poor little client (or Web page in your browser) finds itself all alone?

Gentlemen, Start Your Engines! Leaf Owners, Not So Fast….

Wednesday, April 20th, 2011 by The Director

An error in a system embedded in the Nissan Leaf causes it to fail to start:

Nissan has found that a very small proportion of the Nissan LEAFs in the market today have reported incidents which require reprogramming of the Vehicle Control Module to address incorrect diagnosis programming. Yet, as the LEAF is very important to us, Nissan has decided to perform a service campaign on 5,300 Nissan LEAF vehicles in the Japanese, North American, European and other markets to ensure all of our customers are satisfied.

Does our new world of embedded software systems make you a little uneasy? If you’re in QA, the answer should be “Yes.”

Review Your Legal Agreements, QA

Tuesday, April 19th, 2011 by The Director

I’ve said it over and over again and will treat you to another over again when I say: Brothers and sisters, you need to at least look over the legal agreements included in your Web site or software.

Because this might happen otherwise:

Note to startups: Don’t publish your lawyer’s notes about the various ways you may or may not profit off of user data.

Video chat site Chatroulette seems to have just done just that with its privacy policy, publishing lawyer’s notes like …

“[Andrey, does Chatroulette intend to share the personally identifiable information of users with third party companies for them to send direct marketing or promotional materials to your users e.g. name, email address, postal address etc.? If not, please delete this Section 5.]“

And the precious …

“[Andrey: Do you have any reasonable security measures in place to protect any personal information you may collect e.g. SSL? If so, keep in the bracketed language but remove the brackets. If not, please delete the bracketed language as Chatroulette should not state that it has security procedures in place if this is not currently the case.]“

– right within the policy itself.

You don’t have to be a lawyer to find these sorts of things in the legalese:

  • Formatting problems, including random variations of fonts and sizes.
  • Strange characters that occur when text is swiped and pasted.
  • Incorrect company names and other details when text is swiped and pasted from some other site’s boilerplate.
  • Wrong dates or other details if text is carried forward from a previous iteration of the document.

Of course, if you do have a J.D. but a sense of ethics that prevented you from actually practicing law, you might find more than that.

But someone should look at these things to make sure that stupid blunders are kept to a minimum.

(Link seen here.)

A Proper QA Lab Needs A Proper Defense

Monday, April 18th, 2011 by The Director

Here’s a how-to guide about making projectile weapons out of office supplies:

Because sometimes your reputation is not enough to keep the rest of the team out of your hair for a couple of minutes so you can actually test something instead of answering persistent questions about why you haven’t tested that thing you haven’t yet gotten.

(Link seen here.)

QA Music: For Our Self-Employed Contractors

Monday, April 18th, 2011 by The Director

Today’s annual tax filing day in the United States, an especial day for the businesspeople amongst us who foolishly went the self-employed route and have a whole bunch of extra forms to fill out for the business and the personal.

Remember, that accountant you pay is just a tax form number developer taking requirements from the customer who is the IRS and whose resulting little stack traces can lead to a vacation for you in beautiful Greenville, Illinois or Leavenworth, Kansas.

If it sounds familiar, it’s because the song appears in the film Pump Up The Volume (you damn kids), but it does not appear on the soundtrack.

How Courteous Is It To Speak Another Language In Front Of Me?

Friday, April 15th, 2011 by The Director

I use Pinnacle Studio as part of the creation process for the Two Minute QAte series (which will eventually be a series, and not just one). This product cost me like $100 off the shelf, and it has special activation/unlock processes that you have to go through if you want to use certain features. Mainly, it’s a way to try to hit the user up for another $100 if he or she wants to use a displayed menu item or a particular dialog box. A good business model if you don’t mind sometimes your users take to the Internet and say, “What a rip off!”

Not all of the unactivated features cost money, so I’ve gone through the activation process a couple times. Once, the application’s internal URL sent me to a page in Spanish. Muy bueno! Then, it sends me confirmation e-mails with components apparently in a language whose font I have yet to install:

Discourtesy e-mail, I say
Click for full size

Um, yeah.

Remind me not to share my credit card number with these professionals.

On the other hand, at least it keeps me from looking like Max Headroom, unlike Corel VideoStudio Pro X3.

One Fewer, But Not The Last

Thursday, April 14th, 2011 by The Director

Ladies and gentlemen, a computer user, anecdotally:

Just a quick note of thanks for your recent comments concerning iPad use by seniors. I just gave my 88 year old Dad an iPad (original, WIFI only) for his birthday, in an effort to replace his aging & very limited WebTV. Success beyond all expectations! He very quickly mastered the basics of email, browsing, and YouTube videos….

In the second decade of the 21st Century, this gentleman was using WebTV to access the Internet.

I mentioned it in passing in the latest Two Minute QAte, but WebTV users still exist. You need to remember that people, especially people who don’t work with computers all day, use outdated technologies that you probably gave up eight years ago, and you must account for these people in your planning. Even if this accounting is merely deciding you won’t support them.

Although it would be nice if you’d programmatically let them know that, too, before they’re using their rotary phones to reach out and touch your customer service representatives.

What We Have Here Is A Failure To Outputiate

Thursday, April 14th, 2011 by The Director

A receipt from a car wash that accepts credit cards shows a stunning amount of inaccurate data:

Receipt from the car wash, beep beep, hah!

The name, address, and the approval number are all obviously dummy data. Should your system in production be outputting this? Of course not. But do you let the users–in this case, an installer or an administrator of the kiosk–just use the dummy data?

You see this trap sometimes when applications put the labels for controls as text in the controls themselves, such as an edit box that says “First Name” until you type into it. Sometimes, you’ll find the application will check to make sure the edit box is not empty, but the application is perfectly happy with “First Name” in it. The application is happy, but is the client happy that 50% of his registrations come from First Name Last Name of Address City State 55555? I think not. Don’t let them do it. Even if they’re trusted computer professionals.

Secondly, this is another reminder to check all your application’s outputs, QA. I know, that means sometimes getting up from the faintly warm glow of your monitor and the seat that has molded itself nicely to your backside, but if your application prints anything, you’d better make sure it looks good on paper (and on A4 paper if you’re pretending international use).

Why They Never Learn

Tuesday, April 12th, 2011 by The Director

You know how the upbeat section of the software development industry makes the same mistakes over and over, like an insane person hoping that it will work the next time it’s tried?

There’s a reason for that.

Most people have had trouble remembering something they just heard. Now, a University of Missouri researcher found that forgetfulness may have something to do with being in a good mood. Elizabeth Martin, a doctoral student of psychology in the College of Arts and Science, has found that being in a good mood decreases your working memory capacity.

“Working memory, for example, is the ability to recall items in a conversation as you are having it,” Martin said. “This explains why you might not be able to remember a phone number you get at a party when you are having a good time. This research is the first to show that positive mood can negatively impact working memory storage capacity. This shows that although systems in the brain are connected, it is possible to affect one process but not others.”

That’s why QA must do its best to make sure that everyone is in a bad mood as often as possible. For their own good. Give them something to remember you by.


Monday, April 11th, 2011 by The Director

Apparently, sometimes developers get a little fed up with the software development industry, too. Witness the new methodology Programming, M—f—-r methodology.

Amusing. However, fed up developers like to think they’re Samuel L. Jackson, but in reality they’re more young Jaleel White.

(Link seen on Twitter, but I’ve forgotten where.)

QA Music: Burn This Place Down

Monday, April 11th, 2011 by The Director

A band out of Fort Worth, Texas, gives us a little pep talk. It’s Bring the Flood with “Burn This Place Down.”

As if we needed any encouragement.

Your Security Keeps The Neighbors Up At Night

Friday, April 8th, 2011 by The Director

How secure is that?

That security dims the lights of the neighborhood when it comes on
Click for full size

How secure is Jumbotron-sized computer monitors outdoors? I mean, really. When your nightly batch jobs that scroll lists of private customer data across those billboards, it keeps the neighbors up with the glow.

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