Archive for January, 2012

Now That’s Regressive

Tuesday, January 31st, 2012 by The Director

You know, when this blog first started, I used to noodle around existing Web sites, find errors on their Web forms, and do some commentary on them. I haven’t been in that habit for a while, so you might think the quality of applications in the wild has improved. Oh, but no.

Take the Progressive Insurance contact us form:

Flo's going to kill me for this, but....

Now, if you don’t select a topic before you click Submit, it asks for a topic. But only a topic

When Flo says it, does it sound like 'Toe pick' like that girl from The Cutting Edge?

When you select a topic, it changes the fields on the form to reflect what they want for that kind of inquiry (enquiry for our R.P. friends). If you click Submit then, it shows you a list of the fields you need to fill out:

That's to be expected

But if you click the Reset button to reset the form, well, that’s not cricket (cricket for our R.P. friends):

It's your fault, user: You clicked that button when we didn't expect it!

You know, any time your form changes the controls on the screen due to AJAX or other techniques, it’s a different form. And it never hurts to check your reset button in various forms of filling out the form, especially if there are look-ups or state changes as you fill out the form.

UPDATE: Welcome, Progressive Insurance readers!

QA Music: It’s a Madhouse

Monday, January 30th, 2012 by The Director

Madhouse “6”. From before many of you kids were born.

A Lesson in Your Own Awesomeness, and The Ephemerality Thereof

Tuesday, January 24th, 2012 by The Director

Here’s the heartwarming story of an advertising agency that was on top of the world five years ago, but isn’t any more: The King’s Comeuppance: How the hottest ad agency of the aughts fell from grace.

Key paragraph:

“They’re much more important than the client, in their minds,” says Peter De Lorenzo, editor in chief of the car commentary site AutoExtremist.com. “They make ads to amuse themselves.”

Holy cats, that’s a bunch of people in software development, too, ainna?

QA Music: Wars

Monday, January 23rd, 2012 by The Director

Another week, another war. Or at least another heroic sacrificial holding action.

“Wars” by Hurt.

A Note on UI Design from a Data Chick

Friday, January 20th, 2012 by The Director

The chick doesn’t build UIs, but she does use them. And she doesn’t like some elements of them.

I don’t normally work in the UX/UI design world, but I know enough from constantly filling out web forms that too many designs out there are destined for a special ring of data Hell. If you’ve followed any of my web form rants on Twitter, you may have heard this before…but it should be repeated.

Go learn her list of peccadilloes and think about your own. Then, bother your designers and developers when they do something convenient for themselves once, but annoying to users thousands of times.

(Thanks to gimlet for the link.)

UPDATE: Karen Lopez has emailed me to let me know she is a chick, not a guy. I’ve changed the pronouns and whatnot to reflect that.

Sometimes Real Life Fails a Load Test

Thursday, January 19th, 2012 by The Director

The application could handle it. The business behind the application? Not so much.

You need to be careful about what you promise—especially when you make a promise on social media.

This adage is ringing loud and clear for Toronto-based Timothy’s Coffee. In an effort last month to grow its Facebook fan base, the company ran a promotion saying that anyone who “liked” its page would receive four free 24-pack boxes of single-serve coffee. As the Toronto Star reports, this was rather generous, as these boxes retail for over $17 CAD each.

A contest aggregating site picked up the promotion and, as you can imagine, responses poured in, reports the Star. Problem is, the stock of product was depleted within three days of the launch, yet Timothy’s still sent emails telling people their coffee was on the way.

The best part? This is an EPIC WIN! for Timothy’s Coffee’s interactive agency, since a promotion so successful that it makes headlines is AWESOME! It’ll be in all the presentations from here on out.

As always, you have to remember that the little numbers on the screen match up with numbers somewhere else in real life. And your application can be one hundred percent consistent with itself, but if its business rules and limits do not align with the real life it represents, it’s a worthless application.

(Link seen via tweet, but I forget whose. Sorry.)

That’s Me In The Corner, That’s Me In The Spotlight

Monday, January 16th, 2012 by The Director

Find some of my other work elsewhere on the Web:

Trouble Tickets Are Your Business” in ST & QA Magazine.

Book recommendations in The Testing Circus.

QA Music: Mood Music for the Client Meeting

Monday, January 16th, 2012 by The Director

Here’s a little music for the meeting where you unveil the product to the client, and they get that stricken look on their faces because they don’t remember asking or signing off on that.

“Everything” by Divine Sorrow.

As If Millions of Prescription Change Orders Suddenly Cried Out in Terror and Were Suddenly Silenced

Thursday, January 12th, 2012 by The Director

You might know, if you’re in the United States, have health insurance, and have an insurer that uses Express Scripts for its prescription benefits management, that as of January 1, 2012, the Walgreens pharmacy chain and Express Scripts contract ended. Which means that your insurance card does not work at Walgreens, and if you want our pharmaceuticals at reduced rates, you have to transfer your prescriptions to other pharmacies.

How many prescriptions are affected?

90,000,000:

An Express Scripts spokesman say their customers previously filled 90 million prescriptions at Walgreens. Now they’re taking them elsewhere.

It’s my understanding that the Express Scripts processing system was down all day on January 11. Is it related? I don’t know.

But I do wonder whether Express Scripts load tested its system to handle 90,000,000 change orders in a matter of days while handling its normal processing for all other normal maintenance.

It could be a valuable lesson anyway: Even after you’ve load tested your application to the limits of your budget for virtual users or to a level where the stakeholders are comfortable with very gradual ramp up times, sometimes events out of IT’s control could lead to a catastrophic meltdown.

News You Can Use

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012 by The Director

There is a Unicode character and an HTML character for the skull and crossbones.

Please work it into your testing accordingly.

Software Development Is Neither Art Nor Science

Tuesday, January 10th, 2012 by The Director

The software development community has an axis of partisans that runs from those who want to view themselves either as free-wheeling creative types channeling form out of the aether and putting it beautifully, elegantly into code to those who view themselves as white-suited scientists or engineers reasoning natural laws and applying those laws to GUIs. Hence, we get a constant stream of articles like this one, “Software engineering: Art or science?” from the November 8, 2011, SD Times magazine. November 8? Jeez, how deep is the pile of things on the left wing of my desk?

Point of order, Mr. Chairman: Software development is neither art nor science.

Were it art, the product would be meaningful only in invoking thought or providing a comforting sense of beauty. I mean, you don’t use a painting or a concerto for something other than enjoying the painting or concerto. Unless you’re breaking prisoners of war with them or something.

Were it science, the product could be replicated over and over again by others in other organizations and come up with the exact same result. I’m not talking about duplicating CDs or packaging distros; I mean when one wanted to connect to a database, one would use the proven method that had been established, basically, by Isaac Newton. Software development is not that way; its experiments–that is, the development of individual projects or products–do not yield a similar result when done over a series of time and in different location.

What is software development, then? It is handicrafts.

  • The end product does something. The end of the coding process is not some pretty Matrix-drizzle of green numbers to make everything pretty. The end of the coding process is some sort of tool. Ergo, the application is not a work of art. While crafting often produces just art, in other cases it produces something that does something else, however twee. Quilting produces a device that retains heat; woodworking produces furniture. And so on.
     
  • The end product is unique. Assuming you’ve built a phonebook database, a Web site that allows users to enter into a sweepstakes, or a Web service that seeks and receives data from a database to dish to a presentation layer somewhere, you’ve built something different from all the others that have been built before, even those that do the exact same thing. If this were science, your process would yield a finished result that matched the others.
     
  • The end product bears certain trademarks of the craftsmen. Come on, your fingerprints and foibles are all over your software. The tweaks and ways you do things are different from everyone else’s, and someone who’s familiar with your work and with the industry will see your marks on what you’ve done.
     
  • Each end product will have unique defects. In handicrafting, it might be a little glue showing in the gaps of bonded surfaces, maybe a little nesting somewhere in a seam. Maybe they won’t be glaringly obvious, and only another craftsman will see them. Maybe they’re obvious enough that nobody will buy them from your table in the bazaar. Regardless, the defects will be unique to the product, and your other products even if they’re very similar products will have different defects. Or maybe you make the same mistakes over and over and your defects are your trademark.
     
  • Best practices and technologies are faddish. The things you’re coding in and the ways you’re doing it are not necessarily the end result of some evolution or even rational processes. They might just be what someone read in a magazine and thought would be worth a try. Evaluating the practices’ effectiveness might become secondary to trying something novel. I know how to paint the glass into which I pour my candles–what if I try etching the glass? What, indeed?
     
  • Truth does not determine what tools or technologies you use. You know, for that pyrography design, perhaps a wire nib is called for. However, your budget only allows enough for a cheap Walnut Hollow solid nib woodburning kit. As in software development, sometimes the “best” tool is the open-source product that meets some subset of your needs, but it’s free. So you make do. Like a scientist working with studying particles with a Moderately Sized Hadron Collider.
     
  • The craftsmen are more like gossipy ladies at the Singer sewing classes than steely-eyed doctors. I mean, granted, even steely-eyed scientists can be a gossipy lot, but. Any time your craftsmen speak from authority, they’re speaking from some experience, some faddish magazine or blog articles, and/or some education, but they’re not as ex cathedra as they’d like you to think.

Does the metaphor break down? Assuredly. I am a mere craftsman. But if you try to pour software development into some metaphor to make it comprehensible to non-IT people, you could do worse. Like saying it’s an art or a science.

Decoding the Credit Card Number

Monday, January 9th, 2012 by The Director

If you work with credit card processing, this graphic will explain how the credit card is derived.

You can use it to better create test data or whatnot.

QA Music: Last Chance

Monday, January 9th, 2012 by The Director

Today might be your last chance.

Personally, I’m logging a defect about a potential boundary issue: “Your life is short as hell”? I am no theologian, but I understand hell was considered eternal. Unlike life.

A Consultant’s Cri de Couer

Friday, January 6th, 2012 by The Director

As a consultant, I feel this way sometimes:

I love giving advice. I write blogs, articles and a newsletter. I host a radio show. I tweet, Facebook and share nuggets of advice almost daily. So what is it in all of that, that would make anyone think they can still have the right to “pick my brain”?

I can’t tell you how flattering it is to be approached by representatives from major companies seeking my wisdom and advice. It shows they are listening, and like what I have to say.

But often I find the road ends when they are just on a fact finding mission. That mission is to pick my brain to gather as much free intel and knowledge they need to make their jobs easier.

Usually I get that feeling when someone says Hey, can you look at this Web site real quick for me? or Hey, what’s the best tool to use for this task?

Which happens. More often than someone wants to throw money at me to do it, sadly.

(Link seen here.)

Book Report: Get to Work! by Steven Pressfield (2011)

Thursday, January 5th, 2012 by The Director

Book coverIt would be a facile take on this short motivational book to try to explain that QA should look at everything in this book and to do the opposite. This book is all about jumping into a project of some sort and how to best thwart the resistance that will come up when you try to complete it. The book focuses on creating a work of art, a book, a musical compostion, or whatnot.

Unfortunately, in the hands of an evangelist or a developer, he or she will think computer software falls directly into this realm, but it does not.

The tenets of the book include to slop out something before overthinking or before rational thought (seriously) overtakes you. How often have we seen software written like that? Every day? Several times a day? When we sleep fitfully because developers are effectively quashing resistance (that is, anyone who would say that it’s not good enough. Like us.) Begin before you’re ready. Get to work, so to speak.

While that might work for a symphony where the trumpet player blowing a flat note because there’s a misprint on the score won’t bother anyone but the purists or where a typo in a novel is going to cause a little tittering amongst the grammatically aware crowd but won’t derail the narrative, probably. But computer software is not like these things. Computer software, at best, is more akin to nonfiction than a sonnet. Mistakes will impact users in more than superficial ways.

Sure, the book does nod that sometimes you have to evaluate what you’ve learned to correct what you’ve done, but the main impetus of the book is charging recklessly forward. Kind of like when they promise to get some bug fixes into the next sprint, but at the next sprint planning meeting, they are eager to slop new feature out before overthinking or before rational thought overtakes them so that they’re always getting to work and not fixing stuff that’s broken.

I think the book probably does capture the creative mindset and motivates it. Unfortunately, it doesn’t necessarily mean that something of quality will result. But if you read it, maybe it’ll get you started on some project you’ve put off, or maybe it will just give you some resistance to the first-to-market-users-will-forgive mindset that leads to something like Circle more often than it leads to something like Microsoft.

Don’t you read it and go all soft on me now, QA professionals.

And before you ask, yes, this was given to me by a developer.

Books mentioned in this review:

Is Zodiacal Sign A Protected Class?

Wednesday, January 4th, 2012 by The Director

Because I think I need some more Aries on my team.

You Know What Proved Popular This Christmas?

Wednesday, January 4th, 2012 by The Director

The project manager’s wall clock:

Not actual size

The QAHY Shop sold a pile of them last quarter.

If I were making any money on them, I’d have made some money.

Robertas in the Mist

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2012 by The Director

I’ve mentioned early and often that people used WebTV in 2005 and that I encouraged my employer at the time to account for that browser on its Web sites.

It’s 2011. Surely you can not consider a twentieth century technology now, right?

Well, here’s an indication that they’re still out there:

Robertas in the mist

And trying to use Facebook, a modern gee-whizzed up Web site.

Feeling all excited about the prophecied end of IE 6? Microsoft hasn’t completely killed WebTV / MSN TV yet.

Microsoft continues to support the subscription service for existing WebTV and MSN TV customers.

(An explanation of “Roberta” here.)

A Syntax Error? How Quaint.

Monday, January 2nd, 2012 by The Director

A CBS radio site throws up an error for my viewing pleasure. And check this out: It’s an old-timey syntax error:

My grandmother used to run into these with those old timey interpreted languages

What, not a missing resource? Not a null passed where a value is expected? This is particularly amateur work.

And it’s from a third party, again, fouling up the radio station’s Web site and doing who knows what. Brothers and sisters, I’ve had slightly more mature computers’ virtual memory swallowed up by these third party scripts running if I’ve left the Web site open overnight. Like it or not, this third party crap is a part of your Web site and its failures will reflect upon your company, not your ad server.

QA Music: What Do You Know About The Ways Of The Underside?

Monday, January 2nd, 2012 by The Director

Puscifier, "The Mission":


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