Archive for October, 2012

QA Music: Our Sweet Dreams Are, In Fact, Nightmares

Monday, October 29th, 2012 by The Director

Marilyn Manson is old enough these days that I can dig it. Here it is with a remake of the Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)”:

My goodness, that should make the week look better by comparison.

I’ve Heard of Bugs Closing Windows Before, But This Is Ridiculous

Thursday, October 25th, 2012 by The Director

2005-’07 BMW 7 Series Recalled Because Doors May Inadvertently Open:

BMW is recalling 7,485 2005-’07 BMW 7 Series cars because a software problem may cause the doors to inadvertently open, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

“Due to a software problem, the doors may appear to be closed and latched, but, in fact, may inadvertently open,” said NHTSA in its summary of the problem. “The door may unexpectedly open due to road or driving conditions or occupant contact with the door. The sudden opening may result in occupant ejection or increase the risk of injury in the event of a crash.”

You know, I still have a vehicle whose key makes moving parts move and whose (albeit plastic) door handle makes other physical things move.

Know why?

Because I work in QA.

Also, I’m to cheap to buy a new vehicle every decade.

(Link courtesy of Gimlet again, who I should consider giving the keys to the blog except he works in ops and therefore only disdains you.)

Failure Is Inevitable; We Just Try To Make It Really, Really Hard

Wednesday, October 24th, 2012 by The Director

Wired has an interesting story from the world of manufacturing: Why Products Fail.

It deals with the fact that entropy will lead to the eventual demise of even the most finely crafted and engineered items. The laws of mother nature, the variability in the repeated processing of materials, and other things work against absolute perfection.

Of course, in the IT world, failure emerges a lot more quickly given the nature of the “engineering” (that is, the cobbling together of Internet examples to barely solve poorly understood problems) coupled with “natural laws” — the physical and technological environment from Web browser versions to commonplace architectures–that change every six months or so leads to far less success, and little fection, much less perfection.

To maintain our sanity, though, we really do have to recognize that things will break down. We just have to keep agitating and pushing to make sure that that eventual failure is more isolated and harder to get to than a couple keystrokes combined with a mouse click.

More Obscure References Than A Second-Tier Gaming Convention

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012 by The Director

Ladies and gentlemen, the IBM Jargon and General Computing Dictionary circa 1990.

You can bet your bottom dollar that I’m going to bring some of that slang back. By myself if I have to, but I bet some of you will join me.

I wish I was reading stuff like that on the computer networks in 1990. Instead, I was busy reading the MJ-12 cover-up in raw text files. Just think, if I had wasted my time on the former instead of the latter, I coulda made something of my life.

Thanks be to Gimlet for the pointer.

It Ain’t Me, Babe

Thursday, October 18th, 2012 by The Director

But it’s who I want to be: The H.P. Lovecraft Institute of Software Design.

Copyright Dates: The Brown M&Ms of Applications

Wednesday, October 17th, 2012 by The Director

The rules of copyright citation are simple, and they have not changed significantly in decades. But companies continue to get them wrong, especially in software applications.

Two conflicting copyright dates

Whenever I see them wrong in an application, I can’t help but wonder What else have they done wrong?

Of course, I think that when I see any application at the outset. But I digress.

This makes copyright dates sort of like brown M&Ms:

In case you weren’t around during the 80s, the rock supergroup Van Halen had a clause in their concert contracts that stipulated that the band would “be provided with one large bowl of M&M candies, with all brown candies removed”. Once the “M&Ms” story leaked to the press, social commentators jumped all over it as an egregious example of the pampered and spoiled behavior that rock artists demanded.

. . . .

Van Halen was one of the first rock bands to bring truly massive concerts to mid-size cities like Macon, Georgia. The staff that worked at concert arenas in these smallish cities were used to bands coming to town with, at most, three tractor-trailers full of equipment. Van Halen’s equipment took up 9 tractor-trailers. It was a lot of stuff, and the staff at these venues were frequently overwhelmed. And when people are overwhelmed, they make mistakes. At a rock concert, “making a mistake” during setup has a large number of possible outcomes. Some mistakes don’t have any effect at all. Other mistakes can make the band sound awful, which hurts nothing but the band’s image. Other mistakes can cause stage lights to fall from the ceiling and kill people… which is exactly what the band was afraid of.

At the heart of any major concert is the contract. Much of the text of these contracts is standard legal boilerplate, but each band may attach specific demands via something called a “rider”. Most of the contracts involving concerts at large venues are jam-packed with riders, most of which involve technical details specific to the band’s stage design. For instance, a rider might say “Article 148: There will be fifteen amperage voltage sockets at twenty-foot spaces, spaced evenly, providing nineteen amperes total, on beams suspended from the ceiling of the venue, which shall be able to support a total gross weight of 5,600 pounds each, and be suspended no less than 30 feet, but no more than 37.5 feet, above the stage surface”. Van Halen’s concert contracts would have several hundred such demands, and their contracts ended up (in lead singer David Lee Roth’s words) looking “like a Chinese Yellow Pages”.

The staff at venues in large cities were used to technically-complex shows like Van Halen’s. The band played in venues like New York’s Madison Square Garden or Atlanta’s The Omni without incident. But the band kept noticing errors (sometimes significant errors) in the stage setup in smaller cities. The band needed a way to know that their contract had been read fully. And this is where the “no brown M&Ms” came in. The band put a clause smack dab in the middle of the technical jargon of other riders: “Article 126: There will be no brown M&M’s in the backstage area, upon pain of forfeiture of the show, with full compensation”. That way, the band could simply enter the arena and look for a bowl of M&Ms in the backstage area. No brown M&Ms? Someone read the contract fully, so there were probably no major mistakes with the equipment. A bowl of M&Ms with the brown candies? No bowl of M&Ms at all? Stop everyone and check every single thing, because someone didn’t bother to read the contract.

!Improving Your QA Curriculum

Tuesday, October 16th, 2012 by The Director

If only this article were more instructive: What Psychopaths Teach Us about How to Succeed

Traits that are common among psychopathic serial killers—a grandiose sense of self-worth, persuasiveness, superficial charm, ruthlessness, lack of remorse and the manipulation of others—are also shared by politicians and world leaders. Individuals, in other words, running not from the police. But for office. Such a profile allows those who present with these traits to do what they like when they like, completely unfazed by the social, moral or legal consequences of their actions.

Unfortunately, the article is more about the study of psychopaths and university students and parts of their brains that light up; maybe the book from which it is goes more into the teaching part and less into the learn from part.

Regardless of what we might want others to think, QA people are generally not psychopaths. Or maybe I’m projecting. Maybe I’m the normal one here, and you’re all crazy.

Regardless of your sanity, the one thing QA should learn from psycopaths, or should emulate from psychopaths, is a little detachment.

Because we walk a line between passionate advocacy for quality and madness. Because that advocacy is going to meet its limit. In some circumstances, it might be a high limit (a good job to find). In others, it’s a low threshold, such as We’ll release it with critical defects causing the application to crash and lose data, but we’ll fix it if anyone in the real world tries to use the SHIFT key, which nobody ever does.

At some point, one has to have the ability to turn off that paladin nature, that passionate advocacy for as near perfection as is at all possible, and throw up one’s hands and say, “Flooz it.” And not care any more. Because that sort of thing can eat you up. You can’t go into the position completely with that attitude (It is what it is.), otherwise you won’t push the team to be better. Not enough, anyway.

So it would have been helpful to have some insight into how to emulate psychopaths in that detachment, but of course, psychopaths don’t have the need to become detached at some point. They’re psychopaths, after all, which means they’re always detached. Their tips would be more akin to how to appear engaged to convince others to behave according to their needs and desires. That is, it would be more of a sales course. Certainly not project management, since project managers can’t make anyone behave.

So I guess I’ll just have to read some more Norman Vincent Peale, and do just the opposite of what he says. Again.

QA Music: Waiting on the Build

Monday, October 15th, 2012 by The Director

Oh, the waiting and the wanting.

It has been far too long since I’ve listened to Queensrÿche’s Empire. Let’s have another track.

QA Music: You Can’t Take The Sky From Me

Monday, October 8th, 2012 by The Director

You’ve got to find something at your core that’s inviolable if you’re going to make a career of QA.

Because they’ll take everything else from you. One way or another.

The Unleveling Wind

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2012 by The Director

In a stunning turn of events, flat corporate structures might not be the optimal solution:

Disenchanted with the corporate world, many entrepreneurs strive to keep their organizations as flat as possible. But a recent study suggests that, in some cases, office hierarchies help employees get more done. And that too many dominant personalities could jam up the works.

The Findings

The study, conducted by researchers from the business schools at Columbia University and Northwestern and the University of Queensland, Australia, found that when there are tasks that require teamwork, people get more done when there are defined leaders and followers.

I once worked at a place that moved from a hierarchy to a flatter structure. Although this sort of structure is often promoted as egalitarian and allowing everyone to take a stake in the outcome, the result is often less Utopian. Sometimes, when everyone takes a stake, nobody takes responsibility, and when things go wrong the blame–if blame is due–is diffused. It can always be somebody else’s fault.

In other situations, flat hierarchy projects end up with the people who think it’s most important making the most effort and carrying along other extraneous people who hope to share in the success of the project or at least appear busy enough to continue drawing a paycheck.

Frankly, I favor an open communication hierarchy where members of the hierarchy have good relationships not only with their peers in the org chart but also with members of other levels of the hierarchy, mostly but not limited to people above and below you directly.

In that case, you know how to escalate things when things need to be escalated. In a team of equals, you get a chasing-the-rabbit-around-the-racetrack sort of effect, where someone can pass you off to someone else until you eventually find someone who wants to fix it or someone who cannot think of someone else to pass you to.

QA Music: Getting into the Mood

Monday, October 1st, 2012 by The Director

Let’s get in the mood for another week. “Ready to Rumble” by Mystikal


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