Archive for the ‘Miscellany’ Category

How Low Can You Go?

Tuesday, March 18th, 2014 by The Director

I think I have found the source of the problem:

Google Error #000

I expected some sort of enlightenment when I got all the way back to error 000, but that’s not the case, actually.

Or is Google denying there’s an error here?

Fun fact: 000 is 000 in binary. It is one of 10 numbers that are the same.

Your Site’s Next Registered User

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014 by The Director

Nobody would ever do that: Dunedin man changes name to 99-character monster:

A Dunedin man has changed his name to the longest legally allowed, after apparently losing a bet five years ago.

The 22-year-old man from Normanby is now legally known as ‘Full Metal Havok More Sexy N Intelligent Than Spock And All The Superheroes Combined With Frostnova’ – just one character shy of Department of Internal Affairs’ (DIA) 100 character limit.

Which proves the man is not in QA; otherwise, he would have renamed himself with a 101-character name.

Unsub

Friday, March 7th, 2014 by The Director

Unsub, as you fellow fans of the all-too-brief David Soul television series know, means Unknown Subject in television law enforcement, or it did briefly in the first Bush administration.

In the IT world, it could refer to Unknown Subcontractor. And while it’s not a crime, it’s unethical.

Have you ever sat in on a conference call with a developer who talks a good game at a high level, but when asked specific questions, he defers and dissembles? Someone who is not very responsive to issues: when you call him or email him about something in the morning, you can’t reach him, but the problem is solved (or is taken a stab at) overnight?

You know why he’s like that? Because he’s not the one doing the work. And sometimes, contractors hide that they’re subcontracting from their clients.

We use only the most highly trained subcontractors
This cat will test your application for t4/hr.
On the Internet and in remote/distributed work environments, nobody knows you’re a cat or if you’re using a cat as a subcontractor

I can see how it would happen semi-innocently. You’ve been working with a bunch of clients, and they’ve all got tasks that suddenly overlap. So you reach out to a colleague and offer him a couple dollars less just this one time. That works out, so you think, “Hey, maybe I’ll use Joe for this client….” and suddenly someone’s running a clandestine contracting company without the client or clients knowing.

It’s unethical to present your resume to a client and then to use someone else to do the work. It’s okay if you plan to do this at the outset and make sure your client understands you’ve got staff that will handle the work. That’s about the only way a day laborer like an IT consultant can grow a business. But if you say or hint that you’re going to do the work but don’t, that’s lying.

Our mobile testers try everything
This hidden subcontractor is testing your mobile app for t4/hr. (Four Treats an hour).

If the ethical considerations don’t stop you, consider the practical risks. One day you’re a beloved national treasure of a composer, the next you’re an embarrassment with a ghost composer. Or you’re a highly respected scientist/politician who ends up on a Cracked.com list because your behind-the-scenes temporary hires are lazy.

Don’t do it. And if you’re hiring or contracting the work out, make sure to ask, “So you will be doing this work, won’t you?”

A Car Guy’s View of Software Development

Tuesday, February 18th, 2014 by The Director

In this case, the development of software automobiles:

Once upon a time, software was written by people who knew what they were doing, like Mel and his descendants. They were generally solitary, socially awkward fellows with strong awareness of TSR gaming. They were hugely effective at doing things like getting an Atari 2600 to run Pac-Man or writing operating system kernels that never crashed, but they weren’t terribly manageable and they could be real pricks when you got in their way. I once worked with a fellow who had been at the company in question for twenty-three years and had personally written a nontrivial percentage of the nine million lines of code that, when compiled, became our primary product. He was un-fire-able and everybody knew it. There were things that only he knew.

This kind of situation might work out well for designing bridges or building guitars (not that Paul Reed Smith appears to miss Joe Knaggs all that much, to use an inside-baseball example) but it’s hell on your average dipshit thirty-five-year-old middle manager, who has effectively zero leverage on the wizard in the basement. Therefore, a movement started in the software business about fifteen years ago to ensure that no more wizards were ever created. It works like this: Instead of hiring five guys who really know their job at seventy bucks an hour each, you hire a team of fifty drooling morons at seven bucks an hour each. You make them program in pairs, with one typing and the other once watching him type (yes! This is a real thing! It’s called “extreme programming”!) or you use a piece of software to give them each a tiny bit of the big project.

This is what you get from a management perspective: fifty reports who are all pathetically grateful for the work instead of five arrogant wizards, the ability to fire anybody you like at any time withouiret consequence, the ability to demand outrageous work hours and/or conditions, (I was just told that a major American corporation is introducing “bench seating” for its programmers, to save space) and a product that nominally fulfills the spec. This is what you get from a user perspective: the kind of crapware that requires updates twice a week to fix bugs introduced with the previous updates. Remember the days when you could buy software that simply worked, on a floppy disk or cartridge, with no updates required? Those were the wizards at work. Today, you get diverse teams of interchangeable, agile, open-office, skill-compatible resources that produce steaming piles of garbage.

He doesn’t speak about xth generation languages, which allow the software to be badly written far away from and with little knowledge of the hardware it’s running on by developers without knowledge of it and who are forgiven by advances in that underlying hardware (and now virtual hardware) that can cover-up some poor design and coding practices, third-party components of dubious provenance relied on for core processing, and Internet cut-and-paste.

But, other than that, he explains very well why my next car is going to be a Mercedes. A Mercedes 35 hp.

(Link via.)

Seahawks-Tested (Almost)

Tuesday, February 4th, 2014 by The Director

A game player tries to score 1000 points in Madden NFL 25, but instead finds a defect at a common point:

About 10 minutes into the game, I had scored 262 points. The above score is actually wrong. We’ve run into this problem before: once you get to 255 points, Madden stops counting correctly. Not that it doesn’t try.

At the bottom, it says the Seahawks have scored 255 points. At the top, 266. Neither was correct, and I was pretty amused that a computer could attempt the most basic of tasks — addition — and come up with two kinds of wrong.

From what I saw of the actual Superbowl yesterday, this is uncannily accurate.

Remember, friends, in QA numerology, 256 is a magic number. You should try it out even when there’s no explicit boundary stated for an action or a variable. Along with magic numbers like 1025, 65537, and other talismanic digital sequences.

(Link via tweet.)

Get Ready for Some New Top-Level Domains

Friday, January 24th, 2014 by The Director

Beginning next week, your software users might bring with them some new email addresses and URLs as new top-level domains become available:

Starting Jan. 29, the first of hundreds of new top-level Web domains—the suffixes that appear at the end of website addresses like .com and .net—will become available for the first time in more than a decade.

Seven Web domains will be released next week, including .bike, .clothing and .singles. The new domains are expected to draw interest mainly from entrepreneurs and small-business owners seeking Web addresses that more closely relate to the products and services they sell than the Web addresses that are currently available to them.

This means that any part of your application that validates email addresses or URLs might need to get a little exercise.

Two Out Of Four Ain’t Bad in Development

Thursday, December 5th, 2013 by The Director

I clicked through a retweet to an article entitled “Which Programming Language Should I Learn First? on Lifehacker.

And then I almost fainted when I saw the sample code they included for Hello, World programs.

As you know, gentle reader, I’ve often thumped tubs about how any program used to teach students and that outputs Hello World is teaching the youngsters to program defects at the outset because, as “World” in this instance is a noun of direct address, it should be offset by a comma (Hello, World).

So when I saw the sample code included, where the programs for Java and C have that very comma in them, I was amazed. I had to immediately tweet about how it changed my life.

But then I looked closer: In addition to Java and C, the article includes samples of Python and Perl. And the commas are missing.

It was the best of Hello, Worlds, it was the worst of Hello Worlds

So I guess it’s more of a crash course in development than the writer intended.

It’s a collection kludged together, and nobody’s going to think to check consistency or know if there’s a problem in different areas of the software except for QA. Because the milestone and the deadline were met.

As Seen in Time Magazine

Thursday, October 24th, 2013 by The Director

Not me, and not really the magazine. It’s only the Web site, but it is Ben Simo:

Nearly 20 million Americans have now experienced the broken Obamacare website first hand. But Ben Simo, a past president of the Association for Software Testing, found something more than a cumbersome login or a blank screen—clear evidence of subpar coding on the site.

Congrats, Ben!

Cracked Steals My Tone

Tuesday, October 15th, 2013 by The Director

Cracked (I put the name in italics because it was a magazine in my day, sonny, and I fancy myself the IT world’s Sylvester P. Smythe) has a piece entitled 5 Reasons Tech Companies Make Bad Gadgets (An Inside Look) that you might want to read.

It’s not about software per se, but it looks awfully familiar.

Think of the Test Cases

Wednesday, September 11th, 2013 by The Director

Apparently, there’s an Android game called Send Me To Heaven that… Well, I can’t explain it any better than:

S.M.T.H. (Send Me To Heaven) is a sport game. Player throws his phone as high as he can. The higher, the better. The phone registers the height and uploads result to leader boards. World Top 10, Week Top 10 and Day Top 10 lists are available.

That’s about the funniest thing I’ve read all week.

Apple, though, rejected it.

That Particular Never Happened

Friday, September 6th, 2013 by The Director

Motorcyclist survives lightning strike while riding on freeway:

A motorcyclist riding on Interstate 5 survived a lightning strike Thursday as a tumultuous day of weather saw thunderstorms and rain roll through Washington on both sides of the Cascade Mountains.

The biker was riding through Chehalis in western Washington when the lightning hit Thursday morning, Washington State Patrol Trooper William Finn said.

Remember, remote chances of a bad thing occurring are not the same as no chance, and you need to assess your risk accordingly. Individually, people have a very remote chance of winning the lottery, yet someone wins the lottery every couple of weeks.

Make sure when assessing your risk, calculate in the severity of the problem and the number of users mashing the keys in addition to the remoteness of the possibility of that happening.

QAers Gonna QA

Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013 by The Director

The first step on software testing appearing in Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 6: a scientific-sounding name for the QA mindset: negative dispositional attitude:

New research has uncovered the reason why some people seem to dislike everything while others seem to like everything. Apparently, it’s all part of our individual personality — a dimension that researchers have coined “dispositional attitude.”

People with a positive dispositional attitude have a strong tendency to like things, whereas people with a negative dispositional attitude have a strong tendency to dislike things, according to research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. The journal article, “Attitudes without objects: Evidence for a dispositional attitude, its measurement, and its consequences,” was written by Justin Hepler, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Dolores Albarracín, Ph.D., the Martin Fishbein Chair of Communication and Professor of Psychology at Penn.

Realism is an illness.

It’s Not A Geek Company, So You Didn’t Hear About The Problem

Tuesday, August 27th, 2013 by The Director

If this had happened to Amazon, Google, or another company geeks love, you would have heard about it already: Computer Problems Leave Goods Stranded at New York Port:

Computer problems at one of the East Coast’s biggest ports have snarled the flow of cargo across the Northeast for weeks, delaying the delivery of consumer goods needed for back-to-school sales and the start of the holiday shopping season.

The problems at the Port of New York and New Jersey began in June, when Maher Terminals LLC, one of the world’s largest handlers of shipping containers, launched a new computer operating system, according to shipping, trucking, retail-industry and government officials.

. . . .

Maher Terminals and the operating system’s maker, Navis LLC, a division of Finland-based Cargotec Corp., said in a joint news release last week that “real-time interactions between the various system components deployed in the container yard were not operating as designed.” As a temporary solution, certain automated components of the system were scaled back, the companies said. They didn’t reveal the source of the problems.

Rest assured, it worked on a developer’s machine.

Meanwhile, even though it did not impact geeks directly, this bug had huge impact all down the logistical downstream.

Blackjack, Baseball, Software, and Startups

Friday, August 9th, 2013 by The Director

An article entitled An Important Life Lesson from Blackjack and Baseball: You gain more by not being stupid than you do by being smart has this brief takeaway:

The moral: You gain more by not being stupid than you do by being smart. Smart gets neutralized by other smart people. Stupid does not.

The gist: In some competitions, you can lose on purpose, but you can only try to win on purpose, so making the smart moves won’t necessary lead you to success and winning. But making stupid moves can and will thwart you.

In software development or startups, it’s easy to fall into that bad habit of pursing something new, neat, or smart and forgetting to take care of the little things like user experience and bounding your edit boxes.

That’s where QA comes in: We’re trying to box out some of the stupid.

Next, They Come For Comic Sans

Thursday, August 8th, 2013 by The Director

Firefox 23 nixes support for outdated blink HTML tag:

Mozilla announced on Tuesday that Firefox 23, the latest version of its browser, will not support the HTML tag blink.

I would tell you to enjoy it while you can, but it’s already gone, and you never noticed it.

I’ve always used the blink tag to test whether edit boxes appropriately strip HTML formatting because it was a nice, obvious way to see if that failed. Oh, well, I still have the h1 tag, I suppose.

UPDATE: This post was originally entitled Fortunately, It Still Works in IE 6 until someone pointed out it does not work in IE 6. Deep down I knew that, but I was too quick with the quippy headline. Thanks, Jen. I have updated the headline with an alternate quip.

OU612

Tuesday, August 6th, 2013 by The Director

Xerox scanners/photocopiers replacing 6s with 8s? In some cases, apparently so:

In this article I present in which way scanners / copiers of the Xerox WorkCentre Line randomly alter written numbers in pages that are scanned. This is not an OCR problem (as we switched off OCR on purpose), it is a lot worse – patches of the pixel data are randomly replaced in a very subtle and dangerous way: The scanned images look correct at first glance, even though numbers may actually be incorrect. Without a fuss, this may cause scenarios like:

  1. Incorrect invoices
  2. Construction plans with incorrect numbers (as will be shown later in the article) even though they look right
  3. Other incorrect construction plans, for example for bridges (danger of life may be the result!)
  4. Incorrect metering of medicine, even worse, I think.

Who knew you had to test your printed outputs? I did.

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.

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.)