Please Register Your Dead Dog (and other testing stories of the day)

Last week, I received a notice from the town of Ashland informing me that I was being fined for failing to register my dog Buster. Three things struck me as odd. First, I don’t own a dog. Second, the letter was not issued to me, but rather the last occupant of my house (who really needs to change his address). Third, Buster has apparently been deceased for a number of years.

How could this have happened? If you guessed software glitch, give yourself a pat on the back.

According to a post on the town’s website today, a glitch in the Town Clerk’s computer software caused notices to be sent to dog owners whose pets might have died or moved out  of town.

“If your dog has moved or passed away, please notify us,” said Clerk Tara Ward’s post.

The post said a software crash also caused purple notices about fines for dog licenses to be sent to residents whose dogs might already be registered.

That’s one of many interesting testing stories of the day. Here were a few others that caught my attention:

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This is Your Captain Speaking…How Does This Work Again?

If you had to pick two professions where you wouldn’t want glitchy software interfering, they would have to be surgeon and pilot.  These would be the only two correct answers.

And speaking of correct answers (or lack thereof) it seems that a software glitch caused 90% of would-be pilots to record failing grades on their online exam. Why online, you ask? In response to the recently exposed “fake pilot” scam – and as an added measure to prevent forgery – the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) decided to make candidates take the test online.

Simple enough? Here’s NDTV.com with how this plan went, um, off course:

A software glitch caused a 100-mark examination to be graded on just 50, causing over 90 per cent of the examinees to believe that they had failed.  “The paper had 50 questions worth two marks each. Every candidate had to secure a minimum of 70 per cent marks to qualify.

During evaluation, the online software wrongly assigned one mark to each question, as a result of which each candidate was examined on 50 marks. The merit list, however, showed the full marks as 100. As a result, none of the 1,000 pilots who appeared for the ALT examination managed to pass the exam. Passing the exam is mandatory for officers who are seeking licenses as commanders,” said a top DGCA source.

In the CPL category for commercial piloting licenses, only two-three percent of over 4,000 candidates managed to clear the examination.

Realising that the mass failure was a result of a software problem, DGCA chief E K Bharatbhushan wasted no time in declaring that the incident was a consequence of a software glitch, and said that a new merit list would be published this Monday.

Let’s hope the DGCA  learned their lesson on the importance of in-the-wild software testing. If not, I think it’s time to take the train.

Vote for the Worst Software Glitch of 2011

The writers over at ZDNet.com posted a nice summary of the WebLayers Top 10 Software Glitches of 2011. Of course, as with any top ten list, there’s plenty of room for debate. And since our readers know a thing or two about software bugs, I’ve decided to put this up for a vote.

So take a look at their list – think it over very carefully – and vote for the worst software glitch of 2011:

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Software Bugs: Your Money or Your Life!

“Technology is everywhere in every fabric of our lives. With technology, as ubiquitous as it has become, everybody will gain or fail in much the same broad way as the next person or company. Nobody is exempt.” – Jeff Papows, Author of Glitch: The Hidden Impact of Faulty Software

As Jeff said (in his Testing the Limits interview) nobody is exempt from the impact of faulty software. Not developers. Not testers. Not immigrants. Not gas station owners.

We spend most of our time on this blog discussing the impact of software bugs on testers and developers, but a few recent news stories show us how they affect the latter (i.e. immigrants and gas station owners). Take a look…

Computer glitch causes gas station to sell 8,000 gallons at $1.10 each

When residents of Wilmington – a neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA – got word that a local Valero fueling station was selling gas for the bargain price of $1.10 a gallon, almost immediately, vehicles lined up ’round the corner. This wasn’t one of those promo deals on fuel though. It was a computer glitch that lead to the station dispensing some 8,000 gallons of gas at just $1.10 each.

When station owner Kenny Nguyen got wind of his unintended act of kindness, he immediately shut down all of the pumps. All told, Nguyen estimates that he lost nearly $21,000 due to the glitch. Ouch.

Computer glitch voids green card lottery results

Tens of thousands of would-be immigrants to America are sure to be disappointed after a computer glitch prompted the State Department to invalidate results of the most recent green card visa lottery.

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Which One of These Software Testing Stories is Fake?

If you scan the headlines for terms like “software bugs” and “software glitches”, then you know how crazy the world of faulty software can be. So, to have a little fun here on a Friday afternoon, I’ve included summaries of five recent news stories that involve software glitches. Four of them are real. One is fake. Can you figure out which one is fake? Good luck.

Software Glitch Blamed For Property Overvaluations

After months of inquiry from the group of co-op presidents and council members, the Department of Finance responded (to angry residents) by blaming the skyrocketed valuations on a computer glitch. The glitch, according to members of the Council’s Finance Committee, allowed for the incongruous comparison of many co-ops to much pricier real estate—including commercial properties.

Software Glitch Turns Satellite Into Space Zombie

A telecommunications satellite, which remained electrically active while adrift in orbit for more than eight months, was rendered unable to take commands by an electrostatic discharge that fouled its onboard software, officials said. The glitch forced operators of neighboring satellites to perform orbital maneuvers to avoid frequency interference as the satellite drifted along the geostationary arc. Officials say the glitch had nothing to do with solar activity.

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The Top Ten Worst Software Bugs of 2010

It’s often said that “bad press is better than no press at all.” Well, that might be true in some circles, but certainly NOT in software testing and development.

Case in point: SQS Software Quality Systems has put together a Top Ten list – a la David Letterman – of the worst software failures of 2010. If you don’t see your own software on this list, consider it a good year. Better yet, if someone didn’t make the list that should have (in your opinion), go ahead and call them out in the comment section.

And so without further delay, we bring you the Top Ten worst software bugs of 2010:

1. Car manufacturer – brake recall
Recall of two major car brands due to anti-lock brake system defect.

2. Wrong organs removed from donors
Faulty software led to the removal of the wrong organs from 25 donors in the UK. The error originated in faulty data conversion software that was used to upload information on donation preference.

3. Government department prevents completion of online tax returns
Hundreds of people are unable to complete their tax returns online in due to a software bug that has locked users out of their online accounts.

4. Stock exchange
A stock exchange suffered technical glitches during the first phase of its high-profile migration to new technology, trading on its alternative trading platform starting more than an hour late as a result of the problem.

5. Software glitch causes outage for thousands of GPS receivers
While installing software upgrades to ground control stations for a new fleet of GPS satellites, inspectors discovered a glitch in software compatibility that rendered up to 10,000 GPS receivers dark for at least two weeks.

Continue reading on net-security.org >>>

Testing the Limits With Jeff Papows – Part I

What an honor it is to have tech giant Jeff Papows as this month’s guest for Testing the Limits. As the former President and CEO of Lotus Development Corporation, Jeff is widely credited with having taken Lotus Notes from its initial release to sales of over 70 million worldwide. Currently the CEO of WebLayers, Jeff’s career has also included stints as CEO of both Cognos Corporation and Maptuit. You can read more about his background here.

A frequent guest of CNN, Fox and other television networks, Jeff is also a successful author – having sold more than 80,00 copies of his first book “Enterprise.com: Information Leadership in the Digital Age.” In this interview, we ask Jeff about his latest book Glitch: The Hidden Impact of Faulty Software in addition to other hot topics in the world of software quality. Check back tomorrow for Part II.

uTest: Let’s start from the beginning: What prompted you to write this book? Was it a bug that just made you snap one day, or did you reach a tipping point after years of observation?

JP: Well in the end, busy CEO’s write books when circumstances and industry trends pressure you to make a “complete” intellectual contribution to a big problem or trend that you feel compelled to respond to.  There are three issues at the root of a meta-level industry crisis I feel is mounting at present.

  • Technology saturation or ubiquity – As of the first of this year we have a trillion devices connected to the Internet, a billion transistors and or microprocessors at work for literally every human being on the planet and thirty billion RFID tags in motion communications with our computing typologies.  Technology is not just a business to business staple anymore – it is truly part of the social fabric of the way we work and live.  With this kind of complexity curve and economic contribution any large scale disruption is monumental.
  • Loss of intellectual capital – About 70% of the world’s application inventory and the platform for the majority of our transaction processing is written in Cobol and run on IBM mainframes.  The other side of the Dot Com bubble bursting is that graduating computer science majors and or math majors are off by about 37% and those that are graduating are interested and versed in Java, C++, etc. not Cobol.  Also, for the first time in our careers/lifetimes, C.S. engineers are retiring, aging and dying.  So how do we replace that codified knowledge from walking out our doors?
  • Mergers & acquisitions – In the period following the financial downturn of 2008, the financial services sector has gone through a lot of consolidation.  The result is in part the added complexity of slamming together these complex back office systems in our major banks and financial institutions.

When you combine these factors together, the recipe is complete for the digital equivalent of the perfect storm.  To answer the question, that is why I wrote “Glitch”.

uTest: Your book deals with glitches and bugs from both ends of the spectrum – some serious, some funny and some that are almost unbelievable. What was the worst (as in most damaging) glitch that you came across while researching?

JP: That’s easy.  The human suffering and deaths caused by software glitches in Varions Cancer radiation medical equipment is the worst!

uTest: What was the worst glitch that didn’t make it into the book?

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More Year 2010 Bugs Surface

Shortly after Mike posted his article about German banks experiencing Y2K fashionably late with their 2016 glitch, two more great 2010 bugs came across my desk:

SpamAssassin Loses Its Mind – Marks Everything as Spam
SpamAssassin filters spam on thousands of email servers around the world, blocking millions of emails you don’t want.  And as of January 1, 2010, it also blocked all the emails you do want.  You see, one of SpamAssassin’s rules blocks emails that were sent from the distant future because some spammers use that tactic hoping they’ll appear at the top of your inbox.  For years now, that rule has hard coded January 1, 2010 as the cutoff date for emails – meaning anything with that date or later was flagged as spam.

If you run SpamAssassin and are wondering why you haven’t received any emails lately, you should probably update your software.

Symantec – Have You Updated Lately?  What About Now?  Now?  How About Now? I Don’t Believe You.
For reasons that are not clear, Symantec’s Endpoint Protection Manager product believes that any virus definitions received after December 31, 2009 are out of date.  Of course, it would really like you update your obsolete definitions even though they’re perfectly fine.  A fix is apparently in the works, but workarounds have already been posted.

Fashionably Late: Y2K Bug Hits German, Aussie Banks

It arrived much later than expected – 10 years in fact – but the Y2k bug may finally get its time to shine. According to the AFP,German Banking officials have warned that as many as 30 million card holders may be unable to withdraw cash or make online payments due to the “feared Y2k computer bug.”

Apparently, certain chips used in a new series of “high tech” banking cards are unable to recognize the year 2010. The problem could persist for the next ten days, which is especially bad for the “EC” cardholders, as they are direct debit instruments, and are not able to purchase anything on credit even when they function properly.

This news coming just days after similar problems had been reported in Australia, where certain POS (point of sale) transactions were unable to be processed. This bug was dubbed the “2016 glitch”, since the machines apparently recognized the year 2016 in place of 2010.

Either way, I suppose this would be a good time to remind our readers of the importance of regression testing….

“Life’s a Glitch, Then You Die” (Happy Halloween from uTest)

I can’t take credit for the pun in the title (it’s from The Simpsons’ Treehouse of Horror*) but it fit so well with today’s utestpumpkintheme, I just couldn’t help myself.

That’s right, it’s Halloweekend (that lame pun is mine). And so despite the warnings from that old guy in Pet Sematary who said that “Sometimes…dead is better,” we’ve decided to help a few scary software bugs rise from their graves. What could possibly go wrong?

Grills to Cook Babies and More

From OrigSoft.com: “It’s a well-known problem with websites that if you trust user-submitted data that you will get burned. Sears literally did get burned by their own incompetence when their website started promoting ‘Grills to cook babies and more’. The problem wasn’t a huge lack judgment by the Sears product team, but rather a lack of understanding about displaying variable names and values in the URL. A lot of sites do this by default, but the Sears site took it one step further. If a specific page became popular, the results were cached and displayed to users.”

The Ping of Death

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