Archive for the ‘Miscellany’ Category

The Day I Quit

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2015 by The Director

When I was a lad, fresh out of the university with a degree in English and Philosophy and no actual career prospects, I worked as a produce clerk for a small off-chain produce and cheese shop. They had daily garbage pickup on weekdays, but nothing on the weekends, which were some of the busiest days of the week. As a result, on Sunday afternoons, the dumpster started to fail boundary analysis, at which time the store manager would order a clerk or two to climb up onto the pile and jump up and down to compact it so we could dump the last few cans of refuse into it. Come to think of it, I’ve seen the same philosophy applied to hardware resource management.

So as I stood and watched the younger kids jumping in the dumpster, I decided that if I was ever ordered to climb into the dumpster, I would drop my apron in the alley and never come back.

Want to know what would make me leave QA? Needing an implant of some sort to do my job:

PayPal is working on a new generation of embeddable, injectable and ingestible devices that could replace passwords as a means of identification.

Jonathan LeBlanc, PayPal’s global head of developer evangelism, claims that these devices could include brain implants, wafer-thin silicon chips that can be embedded into the skin, and ingestible devices with batteries that are powered by stomach acid.

These devices would allow “natural body identification,” by monitoring internal body functions like heartbeat, glucose levels and vein recognition, Mr LeBlanc told the Wall Street Journal.

Over time they would come to replace passwords and even more advanced methods of identification, like fingerprint scanning and location verification, which he says are not always reliable.

I’d rather not be personally, bodily on the Internet of Things unless there’s a compelling medical reason for it, and even then I’m going to ask my doctor to examine all the steampunk options first.

How Much Of It Would QA Chew If QA Would Chew It?

Thursday, March 26th, 2015 by The Director

Nihilist chewing gum.

Never mind searching for it on Amazon.com. It’s futile. Also, it’s not available.

(Link source.)

Failed Data Integration Costs Customers Hundreds of Dollars

Wednesday, March 25th, 2015 by The Director

A failed data integration is going to cost St. Louis area residents up to hundreds of dollars. Or require a refund.

No, that extra few hundred dollars on your monthly sewer bill isn’t a typo.

A bill miscalculation that began nearly two years ago has the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District asking thousands of customers in St. Louis County to pay for services that never showed up on bills. The average undercharge for an affected household: $450.

Nearly 1,900 residential customers and 3,700 commercial customers are being asked to pay more on their current sewer bill, which should be in mailboxes by the week of April 6 at the latest.

The reason?

The discrepancy began in May 2013, when Missouri American Water, which provides water service in much of the St. Louis County portion of MSD’s territory, changed its billing system.

MSD buys water meter data from Missouri American in order to calculate many customer rates, but the new system’s data wasn’t properly computing with MSD’s billing programs, district spokesman Lance LeComb said.

“Ultimately MSD is responsible for getting the data right and making sure we have correct account information and send out correct bills,” he said. “Missouri American Water was very supportive of our efforts and provided additional staff” to fix the problem.

Dependency upon an integration, and something at the data provider changed. Expensively.

On the MSD bills, they encourage you to “go green” and pay your bills online:

Given their track record, I can understand anyone’s reluctance to allow MSD’s computer systems access to a customer bank account or credit card.

Public Service Announcement

Tuesday, February 24th, 2015 by The Director

I know it’s a year old, but the topic of this article will never get old: Ways to Say ‘No’ More Effectively:

When asked to help or to do a favor, whether it is to donate money to charity, fill out a questionnaire or let a stranger use a cellphone, research has shown many people will say “yes” simply because saying “no” would make them even more uncomfortable. This is especially true when people have to give their answer face to face, rather than by email.

And even when people do say “no,” they become more likely to say “yes” to subsequent requests. “They feel so guilty about saying ‘no,’ they feel they need to salvage the relationship,” says Vanessa Bohns, assistant professor of management sciences at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada.

The world could use more No.

10 Rules for Safety-Critical Code

Thursday, February 19th, 2015 by The Director

NASA’s 10 rules for developing safety-critical code:

NASA’s been writing mission-critical software for space exploration for decades, and now the organization is turning those guidelines into a coding standard for the software development industry.

The NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s (JPL) Laboratory for Reliable Software recently published a set of code guidelines, “The Power of Ten—Rules for Developing Safety Critical Code.” The paper’s author, JPL lead scientist Gerard J. Holzmann, explained that the mass of existing coding guidelines is inconsistent and full of arbitrary rules, rarely allowing for now-essential tasks such as tool-based compliance checks. Existing guidelines, he said, inundate coders with vague rules, causing code quality of even the most critical applications to suffer.

It’s not The Programmer’s Book of Rules, but it’s worth reading and considering even if your software can’t kill people.

A Defect In The Style Guide

Wednesday, February 18th, 2015 by The Director

The Wall Street Journal changes its capitalization of eBay depending upon where it appears.

For example, look at the print edition:

Different capitalizations of eBay

Or this article online: Carl Icahn Boosts Stake in EBay:

Carl Icahn slightly boosted his holdings in eBay Inc. by about $25 million in the fourth quarter, according to the activist investor’s latest quarterly filing.

Let’s look at the discrepancies and inconsistencies:

  • In the print edition headlines and drop quotes, only the E is capitalized.
  • In the online story, both the E and the B are capitalized in headlines.
  • When it appears at the beginning of a sentence, both the E and B are capitalized.
  • When the word appears in the middle of the sentence, it is appropriately capitalized as eBay.

This is a style guide issue, as the inconsistent capitalizations are consistent in where they’re inconsistently capitalized.

This doesn’t seem to be a bigger issue regarding trademark capitalization, as iPhone is capitalized correctly, at least online: ‘Staggering’ iPhone Demand Helps Lift Apple’s Quarterly Profit by 38%:

Apple Inc. surpassed even the most bullish Wall Street expectations for its holiday quarter with an improbable trifecta: selling more iPhones at higher prices—and earning more on each sale.

It looks as though the corporate style guide could use a little correction. How about yours?

QA Music: Showing You Where Forever Dies

Monday, February 16th, 2015 by The Director

Breaking Benjamin, “I Will Not Bow”

Wrong, In Context

Friday, February 13th, 2015 by The Director

On the front page of the September 9, 2014, Wall Street Journal, we find that GE has exited the kitchen with the sale of its appliance business:

GE Exits

However, on page B3 the same day, the drop quote in an article would seem to indicate otherwise:

GE buys a food company

Of course, General Electric is not buying the food company Annie’s; the headline makes clear that the General in this case is General Mills (stock symbol: GIS).

But there’s nothing in the drop-quote to indicate something is wrong within its own context. Maybe General Electric often pays premiums like that during an acquisition. Maybe the copy editor or whomever did this dropquote finished the GE story from page 1 just minutes before working on the General Mills story.

However, we’ve got to retain context when testing and proofreading.

Where does this come into play in testing?

The foremost example in my mind is when we’re doing things to trigger error conditions to make sure that an error message displays. It’s possible that the system will throw up the wrong error message and we’ll miss it. I once wrote automated tests that triggered error conditions and parsed the error message (mostly to make sure an error message applicable to the screen and operation displayed). However, I did not write it smart enough to compare the error message that displayed to the error message expected. So when the application started failing by displaying the wrong message for the occasion, the tests didn’t catch it.

So you’ve got to remember to see the forest and the trees–along with the underbrush, the soil, the other flora, and the carnivorous fauna–when you’re testing.

Maybe I’m Doing Conferences Wrong

Thursday, February 12th, 2015 by The Director

Turn That Soul-Crushing Conference Into a Win:

You’ve spent days wandering the cavernous halls of a convention center, trapped in windowless rooms, drinking too much coffee and talking yourself hoarse. Does anyone ever emerge from a conference as the organizers intended, feeling recharged with new ideas, contacts and energy?

New York City marketing executive Stefany Stanley does. Among conference organizers she is known as a savvy convention-goer, someone with a strategy for rising above the dreary rounds of networking and breakout sessions. Ms. Stanley says she has gained valuable contacts, ideas and insights from the 15 conferences she has attended in the past five years.

The article goes on with tips and tricks to maximizing your meeting other people to sell your services to or to meet people who might help you get a leg up, basically.

I must be doing it wrong; when I go to conferences, I go to attend the sessions and to learn what the speakers have to offer as to professional insight. Maybe I’ll meet someone I know off the QAternet or something, but I don’t count on it, and if I don’t, I don’t think that I’ve lost something.

Of course, I don’t go to enough conferences and conventions often enough to have my soul crushed, and I don’t think of them primarily as mass in-person sales cold calls, so I’m probably doing them wrong when I do go.

But maybe you’ll find the article useful.

Oh, Yes, Grammar Matters

Tuesday, February 10th, 2015 by The Director

Grammar Rules in Real Estate

Real-estate agents, better take out that red pen.

An analysis of listings priced at $1 million and up shows that “perfect” listings—written in full sentences without spelling or grammatical errors—sell three days faster and are 10% more likely to sell for more than their list price than listings overall.

On the flip side, listings riddled with technical errors—misspellings, incorrect homonyms, incomplete sentences, among others—log the most median days on the market before selling and have the lowest percentage of homes that sell over list price. The analysis, conducted by Redfin, a national real-estate brokerage, and Grammarly, an online proofreading application, examined spelling errors and other grammatical red flags in 106,850 luxury listings in 52 metro areas in 2013.

Think it applies only to real estate and not your product interface? Are you willing to take that gamble?

You’d better make sure your Web labels, error messages, and helpful text are grammatically correct, or you won’t be able to quantify how many people don’t use your software because they thought it was written by third graders. Because they won’t be your users.

(Yes, I know the story is nine months old, but I’m between contracts right now and have a little time to catch up on my newspapers for the last year.)

Now That’s A Tech Blog I Would Read

Thursday, February 5th, 2015 by The Director

IT Droll

Alas, ITDroll.com is not droll musings on the computer industry after all, apparently.

Why Would They Call It A ‘Hot’ Key If Nobody Stole It?

Wednesday, February 4th, 2015 by The Director

Over at Medium, they discuss how the intersection of Polish typing custom, Microsoft Windows custom, and user interface colluded to create a defect: The curious case of the disappearing Polish S:

A few weeks ago, someone reported this to us at Medium:

“I just started an article in Polish. I can type in every letter, except Ś. When I press the key for Ś, the letter just doesn’t appear. It only happens on Medium.”

This was odd. We don’t really special-case any language in any way, and even if we did… out of 32 Polish characters, why would this random one be the only one causing problems?

Turns out, it wasn’t so random. This is a story of how four incidental ingredients spanning decades (if not centuries) came together to cause the most curious of bugs, and how we fixed it.

It’s hard to test for the conditions to recreate this bug unless you’re Polish. It’s also a humbling example of how we’re going to miss things because of our (as yet) limited omniscience.

(Link via IDisposable tweet.)

I’ve Tested Those Applications

Tuesday, September 30th, 2014 by The Director

Seen on Twitter:

I’ve tested applications like that, where the Web pages are filled with tabs full of edit boxes crammed into the space with inscrutable labels that, I’m assured, the users know what they mean.

Well, maybe.

Sometimes, these interface designs come straight off of some crowded paper form that a worker would fill out with pen, checking boxes and putting tic marks or numbers in boxes. On paper, this is as quick as moving your eye, moving the pen, and pressing down. With a screen, it’s a little different, as it involves tabbing or moving the mouse and clicking and then typing something, scanning the form, moving the mouse, clicking, typing some more, and so on.

Other times, these interface designs pretty directly capture what the worker saw in a mainframe application or in a terminal window connecting to a mainframe application. With Windows or Web-safe colors instead of amber text on a black background that the worker. A lot of needless tabbing because interfaces could not easily branch. If you check this box, then these blank spaces become relevant. No, paper couldn’t do that and mainframes couldn’t do that, so the new Windows or Web application won’t do that. Because the users are used to it.

However:

  • The workers (“users”) today aren’t the users of tomorrow; if you’re not designing the interface right because it’s good enough for the grizzled greybeard who’s been around forever, you’re not appreciating how much easier you could make the process for n00bs. That is, probably most of the users. Especially if you’re writing software for a company that’s okay with this sort of interface. I imagine it has a lot of turnover and a lot of people getting trained to do it the hard way just because it’s always been done.
     
  • Notice that we use the term “users” a lot in relation to people who work with the software we build. That’s defining them in terms of their relationship with our software, but their main jobs are doing something else. If your software design captures workers and traps them into being users too much, it drags on their productivity. Computer software should make their jobs easier and more streamlined, not slower than working with pen and paper. Sure, you can say that the data collection for analysis on the back-end is the driver for the software, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore other efficiencies you can introduce with a good (or at least better than this) design.

I read somewhere recently about hiring tester with test skills rather than domain knowledge, and sure, that’s the right balance, however, domain knowledge is what allows you to spot these sorts of problems. You might be hired because you’re a good tester, but you ought to study up on the industry whose software you’re testing. Me, I’ve been known to refresh myself on the basics of chemistry to better test chemical modeling software and to grok at least a little bit of the workflow of a warehouse when testing order fulfillment software.

Because otherwise you’re only logging the defects qua defects like “The Tare Weight edit box allows alpha characters” and not the higher level concerns about why you’d expect a worker would enter the total shipping weight before the number of items to ship.

Domain knowledge gives you the insight about the worker’s starting point in your software and what he wants to do to get done with your software. And that will give you the possible paths for his interaction without having to make all the possibilities available on one screen in tiny print.

An Inadvertent Password Review

Wednesday, September 10th, 2014 by The Director

So I’m at a presentation last week, and the presenter’s got his little tablet plugged into the projector. He wanders off and starts talking to someone, and his tablet shuts off automatically after a bit.

So he goes to the tablet and looks down at it. He starts it back up, and he types his password to unlock it, and….

Because it’s a tablet, the keyboard displays onscreen and shows his key taps.

As does the projector.

So we all saw his password. On one hand, it was a strong password. On the other hand, we all saw it.

Don’t do that.

It Shouldn’t Be Any Different

Friday, September 5th, 2014 by The Director

The banner on deals.ebay.com:

The banner rightly sized

The same banner on the eBay Gold store (wait, you didn’t know eBay had a gold store? Neither did its testers!):

The banner incorrectly sized

Now, why would the height of the banner be different on one page?

Because they’re different, no matter how much the same they seem.

One of the tricks of testing is recognizing how things differ in your applications and Web sites. Although the pages and features try to share code and styling whenever possible, they diverge more than it appears. As you test across features, you’ll get a sense of where different code does the same things, so you’ll learn where to test similar workflows whenever something changes.

That includes checking the styling of different pages within your site when a CSS file changes.

The Benefits of the QA Outlook

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014 by The Director

A Perfect Dose of Pessimism:

Listen up Pollyannas of the world: A dose of pessimism may do you good.

Experts say pessimism can at times be beneficial to a person’s physical and mental well-being. Some studies have found that having a more negative outlook of the future may result in a longer and healthier life. Pessimism and optimism are opposite ends of a spectrum of personality traits, and people generally fall somewhere in between.

“All too often in the literature and in the public conversation, we want people to be more than 90% optimistic,” said Dilip Jeste, a professor of psychiatry and neuroscience at the University of California San Diego. “That’s not good. It is much better to have a balanced perspective and have some pessimistic streak in your personality in order to succeed.”

The sidebar lists four different types of pessimism. Which one is QA’s perspective? Number 5, the classified one.

You’ve Gotten Your Junk Data in My Junk Tests

Friday, August 22nd, 2014 by The Director

One of the recurring pratfalls in testing your integration with third party widgets shared by, and updateable by, others who use it is their test data becomes available to you sometimes.

Take, for instance, testing integration with Google maps. It’s becoming harder and harder to submit a string that returns no results. Search for asdf, for example, an old tester favorite.

ASDF, Ltd.

Someone in testing adding Google Places has added that as test data, and it’s there for all of us to see.

Fingered by an Error Message

Tuesday, August 19th, 2014 by The Director

Why would a user do that?

None of that stopped 26-year-old Diondre J— of Slidell, who checked into Slidell Memorial Hospital on Aug. 5 under the name of her deceased sister, Delores, Slidell Police Department spokesman Daniel Seuzeneau said Wednesday.

When hospital staff attempted to put the information into the hospital’s database, an error message informed them they might have been treating a dead person. The police were contacted, and Diondre J— was stopped in the hospital parking lot.

It’s good to see someone was on the job testing to see what would happen if you tried to enter a patient’s date of treatment after the patient’s date of death.

Because sometimes a user might do that.

The Secret of My Success

Tuesday, June 24th, 2014 by The Director

Haters gonna hate – but it makes them better at their job: Grumpy and negative people are more efficient than happy colleagues:

Everyone hates a hater. They’re the ones who hate the sun because it’s too hot, and the breeze because it’s too cold.

The rest of us, then, can take comfort in the fact that haters may not want to get involved in as many activities as the rest of us.

But in a twist of irony, that grumpy person you know may actually be better at their job since they spend so much time on fewer activities.

It’s not true, of course.

Haters don’t hate other haters.

But the rest could hold true.

You Can Learn From Others’ Failures

Tuesday, June 17th, 2014 by The Director

10 Things You Can Learn From Bad Copy:

We’ve all read copy that makes us cringe. Sometimes it’s hard to put a finger on exactly what it is that makes the copy so bad. Nonetheless, its lack of appeal doesn’t go unnoticed.

Of course, writing is subjective in nature, but there are certain blunders that are universal. While poor writing doesn’t do much to engage the reader or lend authority to its publisher, it can help you gain a better understanding of what is needed to produce quality content.

It’s most applicable to content-heavy Web sites, but some are more broadly applicable to applications in general. Including #8, Grammar Matters:

Obviously, you wouldn’t use poor grammar on purpose. Unfortunately, many don’t know when they’re using poor grammar.

That’s one of the things we’re here for.

(Link via SupaTrey.)