Archive for July, 2013

Wiener’s Laws of Aircraft Automation

Wednesday, July 31st, 2013 by The Director

Earl Wiener was a former military pilot who became professor of management science and industrial engineering at the University of Miami and conducted a lot of studies on how automation in the cockpit affects the pilots.

At some point, he put together a pithy list of things about automation and going more to fly-by-wire systems. These are known as Wiener’s Laws:

(Note: Nos. 1-16 intentionally left blank)

17. Every device creates its own opportunity for human error.

18. Exotic devices create exotic problems.

19. Digital devices tune out small errors while creating opportunities for large errors.

20. Complacency? Don’t worry about it.

21. In aviation, there is no problem so great or so complex that it cannot be blamed on the pilot.

22. There is no simple solution out there waiting to be discovered, so don’t waste your time searching for it.

23. Invention is the mother of necessity.

24. If at first you don’t succeed… try a new system or a different approach.

25. Some problems have no solution. If you encounter one of these, you can always convene a committee to revise some checklist.

26. In God we trust. Everything else must be brought into your scan.

27. It takes an airplane to bring out the worst in a pilot.

28. Any pilot who can be replaced by a computer should be.

29. Whenever you solve a problem you usually create one. You can only hope that the one you created is less critical than the one you eliminated.

30. You can never be too rich or too thin (Duchess of Windsor) or too careful what you put into a digital flight guidance system (Wiener).

31. Today’s nifty, voluntary system is tomorrow’s F.A.R. [Federal Aviation Regulation]

Because it’s got the word automation right in it, you’re probably looking at it in terms of test automation, but computer software itself is an automation of other processes, so the lessons therein apply more broadly.

You can read more about Wiener in this Aviation Week archive, and I’ll daresay we can learn a lot.

QA Music: Triggering Flashbacks, And Not In A Good Way

Monday, July 15th, 2013 by The Director

You damn kids think everything about the 1980s was the cool things you revel in calling retro. But this is not always so. The early parts of the eighties included pieces of the 1970s that grimly hung on. Like Discoification of everything.

Like this bit from Meco, “The Empire Strikes Back (Medley)”:

This particular effort reached #18 on the Billboard charts. Which is not as well as his rendition of “Star Wars Theme/Cantina Band”. Which reached #1.

I hope I haven’t triggered too many flashbacks amongst you old timers.

Updating Your Tests Might Be A Bit Premature

Friday, July 12th, 2013 by The Director

Aussie restaurateur Paul Mathis invents new letter of the Alphabet:

WOULDN’T it be easier if the word “the” was just simply a letter?

Well at least one person seems to think so.

Aussie restaurateur, Paul Mathis has invented a new letter of the alphabet to replace the word “the” because he thinks it is more efficient.

The letter looks like the Cyrillic letter ‘Ћ’. If an upper case T and a lower case h were to have a typographic baby, this is what it would look like.

I’ll wait for the unicode character before I take this seriously.

But how would your app handle a new letter of the alphabet or a new glyph of some sort? How closely do you pay attention to these things?

Off By 180 Degrees Error

Thursday, July 11th, 2013 by The Director

Gimlet passes along the news story "Chrysler recalling over 280k minivans because airbags may deploy on wrong side:

Chrysler has issued a recall for some 2013 Town & Country, Dodge Grand Caravan and Ram C/V Tradesman vans built between May 10, 2012 and June 7, 2013. These vehicles may have a software error that would cause the wrong side (opposite side) airbags to deploy in a crash. With this defect, a left-side impact would cause the right-side airbag to deploy, etc.

You know, I have a lot of respect for embedded systems testers. You and I got to worry about browser and device compatibility, but we get to try these things in a number of real-world situations given that our ‘real world’ is the Web and computer systems.

When you’re testing out the embedded systems, it’s mostly testing tools and simulations. It’s not like those guys get to pop off the airbags in cars a hundred times a day and sometimes more when they’re trying to recreate an issue. Poor lads.

I Guess You Can Remove One Item From Your Compatibility Testing Matrix

Wednesday, July 10th, 2013 by The Director

WebTV, now MSNTV, is going away, and not just in a press release:

Microsoft said that its MSN TV service will be closing down at the end of September, in a post on its Web site and in an email to users.

It’s not that anyone was testing compatibility of Web sites any more for it, but its users were still calling the help desks of consumer products companies whose Web sites did not support their preferred browsing method.

But before you cheer too loudly, consider how many of these people will be upgrading to recycled and donated PCs running Windows Me and IE 6. The answer will be…. more than you’d like to think.

(Link via.)

What QA Decants

Tuesday, July 9th, 2013 by The Director

Six Sigma Wine.

No, really. I mean, no, really, it exists. But, personally speaking, I don’t so much decant as debox.

QA Music: Everybody Knows

Monday, July 8th, 2013 by The Director

Leonard Cohen, “Everybody Knows”, featuring scenes from the film Pump Up The Volume (although the version on the soundtrack is a cover by Concrete Blonde):

One might suspect the film influenced your humble Director a lot as a young man. And one might be right.

The Users Don’t Always Want What Your Designers Want

Friday, July 5th, 2013 by The Director

Your designers probably want the latest cutting edge gizmos and paradigms in your applications. What do your users want? The familiar and the things they have already learned to use:

Ford Motor Co. is going back to buttons and knobs.

Punished by third-party quality reports because of the difficulty of using its touch-screen multimedia system, called MyFord Touch, the auto maker will reprise tuning and volume knobs for the radio as it redesigns existing models, a top Ford executive said.

It is a reversal for Ford, which has been a first-mover with installing mobile-phone-based technologies, voice recognition and touch screens in its vehicles. The systems have been a big selling point for Ford with its vehicles, but also have dragged down its reputation for quality.

. . . .

One of the things that bothered customers was the inability to quickly change the channel or volume on the radio through familiar knobs, he said. As Ford redesigns its vehicles, the flat control panels with add more buttons and knobs[SIC] and[SIC] the main screen will become simpler.

Users have other goals in mind with your software than building a portfolio to take to their next job interviews. In a lot of cases, they want to do the same things in the same ways they’ve always done things.

Granted, you do have to balance the same old way of doing things with any process improvement that your software brings, but far too often, design changes come from the minds of the designers and frustrate the users to no end.

Ever wonder why fast food restaurants and many less expensive department stores have very similar layouts to others in the chain? It’s because customers whose goals are getting a quick lunch or grabbing the essentials quickly, looking for the things they need (which includes the bathrooms and concerns as to whether they pay the server or a cash register by the door) mars the simplicity they crave.

Likewise, if your designers had their way, each freaking McDonalds would have a different layout, some with gerbil tubes between the floors so users could climb between the registers and the condiments stand. Because it would be different. Because it would satisfy their needs as architects.

Some stores and restaurants are destinations qua as eating experiences or shopping experiences. But your software rarely is. Nobody’s running your software to enjoy your software.

So make it easy for them to do what they do with your software, and don’t add weird or unknown design elements just to do that because your users might not appreciate it. Even on the ancillary functions, like changing the radio or clicking a button.


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