Archive for the ‘Miscellany’ Category

Dangerous, Some Interfaces Are

Wednesday, October 14th, 2015 by The Director

I’ve seen some computer interfaces that suffer from this problem:

This is dangerous, you see, because the text that says push here is the glass. Which is not really where you want to push; the user should push on the bar.

So when you’re testing, make sure to evaluate the design of the interface to ensure that the instructions are clear and that the text appropriately indicates what the user should do.

Not just close enough.

QA Music – I’m A Savage/It’s Automatic

Monday, September 14th, 2015 by The Director

Shinedown, “Cut the Cord”:

QA Music: The Choice Is Ours To Make

Tuesday, September 8th, 2015 by The Director

In the 21st century:


Jeez, I need a jump front kick with guitar and some direct-to-video 80s action films, stat.

“Winner Takes It All” by Sammy Hagar. From the Stallone film Over the Top. Which was not, in fact, direct to video; it was a major theatrical release.

A Ping Pong Defect

Friday, August 28th, 2015 by The Director

While sitting in a restaurant, I saw that the closed captioning on the sports program was frequently emitting a string of random characters in the speech:

Forensically speaking, we could assume that this bug occurs in one of the following places:

  • The software transliterating the text to speech. That is, when the software encounters a certain condition, it puts a cartoon curse word into the data.
  • The network transmitting the information. That is, the transmission of the data introduces garbage.
  • The device displaying the transmitted information. That is, the television or satellite box that introduces the captions into the picture inserts the junk every two lines or so.

Okay, I’ll grant you the fourth option: That the broadcasters were actually cursing that much. However, given that the FCC has not announced fines daily, I’m willing to say that it’s nonzero, but unlikely.

The beauty of a defect that could occur almost anywhere, between disparate parts of the product and across different teams and technologies, means that it could ultimately be nobody’s fault. Well, if you ask one of the teams, it’s one of the other team’s fault.

You know, a little something squirrelly happens, you log a defect, and the server, interface, and design teams spend megabytes reassigning the defect to each other and disclaiming responsibility. It drives me nuts.

So what do you do? You find a product owner or someone who’ll take charge of it and pursue it across fiefdoms or who’ll put the screws to the varied factions until it gets fixed.

Because everybody’s got something they’d rather be working on than somebody else’s problem. Even if it’s everybody’s problem.

Apparently, The Screen Size In Production Is Different

Tuesday, August 25th, 2015 by The Director

At least, I hope this is the result of the screen size being different in production than it was in the spec.

Otherwise, the implication would be that the interface was not tested.

Remember when you’re testing that the spec or requirements are merely suggestions, and you should go afield of your testing matrix as often as you can.

Suggestions For Your QA Mission Statement

Monday, August 24th, 2015 by The Director

Victor Frankenstein’s creation speaking in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein pretty much sums up my testing approach:

I will revenge my injuries: if I cannot inspire love, I will cause fear; and chiefly towards you, my arch-enemy, because my creator, do I swear inextinguishable hatred. Have a care: I will work at your destruction, nor finish until I desolate your heard so that you shall curse the hour of your birth.

Nineteenth century curses are the best.

Here’s a statement of work from Frankenstein himself later in the book:

My present situation was one in which all voluntary thought was swallowed up and lost. I was hurried away by fury; revenge alone endowed me with strength and composure; it moulded my feelings and allowed me to be calculating and calm, at periods when otherwise delirium or death would have been my portion.

Extra Naughty Strings

Thursday, August 13th, 2015 by The Director

As the child of two former United States Marines, I already know plenty of naughty strings; however, a client pointed me to this resource on GitHub: Big List of Naughty Strings.

It is a pretty comprehensive list that includes a couple things not in my standard bag of tricks.

Until now.

Word for the Day: Recrudescence

Wednesday, August 12th, 2015 by The Director


Recrudescence is the revival of material or behavior that had previously been stabilized, settled, or diminished. In medicine, it is the recurrence of symptoms in a patient whose blood stream infection has previously been at such a low level as not to be clinically demonstrable or cause symptoms, or the reappearance of a disease after it has been quiescent.

I don’t normally mention the mouthfeel of words, but this one has it.

I’m looking forward to using this when reopening bugs whose behavior recurs.

Also note I plan to mispronounce it as re-CRUD-escence.

QA Music: QA Origin Story

Monday, July 20th, 2015 by The Director

“Hell is where I was born/Hell is where I was raised….” Hellyeah doing “Hush”:

Great Moments in Industrial Design

Wednesday, July 8th, 2015 by The Director

I recently replaced an old timey thermostat that measured the temperature in Roman numerals with a new thermostat that the blister case said was programmable but that doesn’t know Java, Ruby, Python or C# at all (which is just as well, since any programming I did in those languages would undoubtedly set my household temperature to null.

Inside, though, note the guide to the internal switches, particularly the last:

To turn the battery monitor off, you have to set the switch to the on position. To turn the battery monitor off, you have to set the switch to the on position. It’s akin to clicking Cancel and getting a confirmation dialog box that has a Cancel button which is to cancel the cancellation and an OK button that is to actually cancel. If you mix in some confusing message on the dialog box to confound the user.

Look closer, though.

There is no switch #4 on the board.

Never mind, it’s more like a 404 error then.

It’s good to see our friends on the hardware side of things getting into the slapdash action we’re accustomed to in software development.

And by ‘good,’ I mean terrifying.

Today’s Required Reading

Tuesday, May 19th, 2015 by The Director

7 timeless lessons of programming ‘graybeards’:

The software industry venerates the young. If you have a family, you’re too old to code. If you’re pushing 30 or even 25, you’re already over the hill.

Alas, the whippersnappers aren’t always the best solution. While their brains are full of details about the latest, trendiest architectures, frameworks, and stacks, they lack fundamental experience with how software really works and doesn’t. These experiences come only after many lost weeks of frustration borne of weird and inexplicable bugs.

Like the viewers of “Silicon Valley,” who by the end of episode 1.06 get the satisfaction of watching the boy genius crash and burn, many of us programming graybeards enjoy a wee bit of schadenfraude when those who have ignored us for being “past our prime” end up with a flaming pile of code simply because they didn’t listen to their programming elders.

(Link via tweet.)

Washington University Discovers Appropriate Tests for Testers

Monday, May 11th, 2015 by The Director

Well, no, they tested the eye-hand coordination of Albert Pujols a couple years ago, and the tests seem like they’d be applicable to testers as well:

White, who administers these tests frequently as part of her research and clinical work, was especially surprised by Pujols’ performance on two tests in particular, a finger-tapping exercise that measures gross motor performance and a letter cancellation task that measures ability to conduct rapid searches of the environment to locate a specific target.

Asked to place a mark through a specific letter each time it appeared on a page of randomly positioned letters, Pujols used a search strategy that White had never witnessed in 18 years of administering the test.

“What was remarkable about Mr. Pujols’ performance was not his speed but his unique visual search strategy,” White said. “Most people search for targets on a page from left to right, much as they would when reading. In observing Mr. Pujols’ performance, I initially thought he was searching randomly. As I watched, however, I realized that he was searching as if the page were divided into sectors. After locating a single target within a sector, he moved to another sector. Only after locating a single target within each sector, did he return to previously searched sectors and continue his scan for additional targets.”

Asked to depress a tapper with his index finger as many times as possible in 10 seconds, Pujols scored in the 99th percentile, a score almost identical to one earned by Ruth on a similar test of movement speed and endurance. White was impressed not only by Pujols’ tapping speed (2.4 standard deviations faster than normal), but also by the fact that his performance kept improving after repeated trials.

“It was interesting that he actually tapped faster in later trials of the task, suggesting considerable stamina at a high level of performance,” White noted. “Most people tap somewhat slower as the test progresses because their fingers and hands begin to fatigue.”

Pujols tapped with such force, in fact, that, at one point, he actually knocked the tapping key out of alignment. Pujols then helped White repair the finger tapper, tightening a loosened screw with his fingernail, she said.

On additional test I’d pose is: How many members of an agile team can you depress in ten seconds?

The Parable of The Saw

Thursday, April 30th, 2015 by The Director

At the dojo, kyoshi told us the parable of the saw:

There was a woodsman who went into the woods one day to cut some wood, and he began cutting wood. He didn’t want to waste any time, so he cut all through the day, working harder as his saw grew duller. Another woodsman too frequent breaks to sharpen his saw, and he could cut more efficiently than the first woodsman, who didn’t want to waste the time in sharpening his saw. Now, at the end of the day, who had the most wood? The second woodsman.

He’s right, of course; we need to take breaks to recenter ourselves, to focus on something other than our computer or mobile screens while working. Have you ever had a project or a deadline where you want to just bull rush through your list of tasks and responsibilities without taking a break or you’ll never get it done. Maybe some of you face each day that way.

However, focusing so hard that the pixels start to swim isn’t the solution. You should get up, walk over to the window, maybe even step outside for a minute. Take a breath of the fresh air or, if you’re in the city, try to guess if that’s the smell of the tannery or the chocolate factory.

But what’s important is that you get up, stretch, and do something other than sit at the computer. Don’t just switch out of the application you’re working on and check Twitter or read a blog entry. These don’t give you the chance to refocus.

And when you’re done and you sit back down at the computer, you’ll be sharpened like a saw and ready to see what’s before you on the screen instead of waving lines of endless obligation.

No Deadlier Default

Wednesday, April 29th, 2015 by The Director

Want to stay up tonight, QA?

Here’s a story about how a default in a drop-down list almost killed a young man even though a complete triple-checked system and warnings should have prevented it.

The clinicians involved in Pablo’s case that day — physicians, nurses and pharmacists—all made small errors or had mistaken judgments that contributed to their patient’s extraordinary overdose. Yet it was the computer systems, and the awkward and sometimes unsafe ways that they interact with busy and fallible human beings, that ultimately were to blame. And the biggest culprit may well have been the hospital’s incessant electronic alerts. Some automated warnings misled the medical staff; others were lost in the cacophony of alarms going off throughout the hospital.

Read the whole thing, and think about how it should impact your application design and testing.

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 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?

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