Eyjafjallajö-what?

As a native English speaker, the pronunciation of Iceland’s volcano has eluded me.  But I knew Icelandic was a tough language from when I visited there a year ago (see my post: Six Testing Lessons From Iceland).  What I also know is that travel in Europe has turned into a mess, and that travelers from around the world have suffered from the wrath of Eyjafjwhatever (including uTest’s very own product manager who is currently stuck in the United Kingdom).

Of course, getting stuck on a vacation to a foreign country sounds awful (I have terrible nightmares of one day getting stuck in Tahiti), but there are some valuable lessons we can learn from all this.

1. Expect the unexpected.
In my testing lessons from Iceland, I invented a few Icelandic testing tours in the spirit of James Whitaker.  One of them was the Heimaey tour:

Heimaey – The Icelandic island of Heimaey is known for two things: fishing and its little problem with volcanoes.  In 1973, the entire island was evacuated after massive cracks formed in the ground spewing lava and ash everywhere – eventually forming the volcano Eldfell.  Take a tour of your users’ worst nightmare problems and make sure everything works correctly.

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Software Bugs: You Win Sum, You Lose Sum

In becoming self-aware, modern software has developed an unusually cruel sense of humor.

Last week, for instance, a woman hit the jackpot at a Colorado casino – to the tune of $42 million – only to be told that her winnings were the result of a “software malfunction.” Of course, the casino refused to pay the full amount, but graciously offered to comp her room and drinks.

“It seems like a fair deal to me,” said the woman. “I could have really used that forty-two million, but free drinks and a hotel are just as good. I’m the happiest person in the world.”

Just kidding, she’s completely irate. As expected, the dispute has now entered the legal arena. Call me a cynic, but I think she’ll have a better chance of winning at the slots.

Meanwhile in Orlando, a guy making a routine bank transfer was shocked to see his balance at $88,888,888,888.88. According to the news report, he was not the only one to sneak into the billionaire’s club that day. He pondered moving the money offshore ( honest guy!) but before he could find the area code to the Cayman Islands, the issue had been identified and resolved.

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This Twitter Bug Is About YOU

You – the second person English pronoun.  You are the one reading this article. You were Time Magazine’s Person of the Year in 2006. You are special. You rock. Our company name is all about you and testing.

You have also been very naughty. Check out this Twitter entry written by you:

I kill people who nudge me

Wait, that wasn’t written by you? It was written by someone else named You? Oh, our mistake. And apparently it was Twitter’s mistake too according to this article on TechCrunch.

Twitter likes to tell you who is doing what and when at the bottom of each tweet. For example, a post description might tell you that it was retweeted by a friend.  Or if you were the one doing the retweeting, then the post description should say that it was retweeted by “you”.  But what happens when a buggy hyperlinking algorithm decides that anything after the words “Retweeted by” should link to a Twitter profile?

“Retweeted by you” becomes “Retweeted by you” – as in twitter.com/you. And you sounds cranky.

There are a lot of good lessons here for testers and developers, but I want to highlight a few particular:

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Bug Reporting Lessons From Toyota: Are Your Brakes Show Stoppers?

In light of Toyota’s recent quality issues, the number of formal consumer complaints has risen above the norm. To make matters worse, Toyota has had an extremely difficult time making sense of all this new feedback.

Why? Well, if you are an experienced QA professional, you know exactly why.

A recent article about how to write a useful NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety) complaint should strike a chord with software testers. The complaint template is very similar to the bug reports we all know and love. In fact, they both serve the same purpose: defect reporting.

Consumers can learn a few lessons from software testers – and vice versa – by taking a look at some key excerpts from the article:

Include data that will help the manufacturer better understand the problem:

  • Facts about your vehicle and maintenance records
  • What you did and how the vehicle responded
  • Evidence and extra details

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uTest Blog Abuzz With Hive Award Win @ SXSW

Last week, we found out that our humble little Software Testing Blog won the Hive Award at SXSW as the top business software blog (here’s the slideshow and the PDF report). We’re honored to make this prestigious list, along with brands we love such as HowStuffWorks, Nokia, Nike, HBO and About.com.

Part of the reason this blog has been so successful in the past year is how infrequently we talk about ourselves (ugh, boring). Well, I’m allowing myself to break that rule briefly so I can thank the people who have made our blog what it is today.

  • Our in-house team (Stanton, Mike, Jenny and Peter) for their tireless efforts and talented writing about everything from mobile apps to social media to software testing to crowdsourcing trends.
  • Our guest bloggers from the uTest community who have written passionately about everything from mobile testing to QA in agile environments to the evolving roles of testers.
  • Our Testing The Limits guests (including James Whittaker, Matt Heusser, James Bach, Michael Bolton and Jon Bach) who have not only tolerated our wide range of questions — from the insightful to the inane — but joined in with good humor, wit, eloquence and intellect.

I’ll end this little Oscar speech before the orchestra starts playing me off stage. Suffice it to say, we love writing for you; we’ll keep scouring every corner of the world (virtual and physical) for fresh topics and angles about anything related to software; and we’ll keep reminding ourselves why we’ve had this success: we write stuff that you seem to enjoy reading. We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming.

Your Brain on BUGS – Any Questions?

If you lived in the United States during the 1980s, then you probably remember the famous Your Brain on Drugs ad campaign.  Created by the government to combat drug abuse, the ad compares the damaging effects of using drugs to frying an egg.

So what about bugs, as in software bugs?  More than just a lame rhyme, it turns out that bugs may have a negative effect on our brains as well – if you believe the Extended Mind hypothesis.  Stick with me here.

The Extended Mind hypothesis says that our minds are more than what is contained inside our skulls.  When we create or use tools, then we are effectively creating extensions of ourselves.  For example, that would mean that there’s no difference between remembering the capital of the state of Kentucky and looking it up on Wikipedia.  (Here’s a link to help you remember.)

A recent study suggests that there may be some validity to this, a fact discovered by creating a simple software bug and seeing how people respond.  From a recent article in Wired:

An empirical test of ideas proposed by Martin Heidegger shows the great German philosopher to be correct: Everyday tools really do become part of ourselves.

The findings come from a deceptively simple study of people using a computer mouse rigged to malfunction. The resulting disruption in attention wasn’t superficial. It seemingly extended to the very roots of cognition.

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T.W.I.T: The Heart Hacker – Pacemakers Vulnerable to Wireless Attacks

Before I get into the story of this fascinating bug, I wanted to take a moment to introduce you to T.W.I.T. We liked the “bug-iversary” concept so much here at uTest that we decided to make it a recurring column, called T.W.I.T. or This Week In Testing (also noting the happy coincidence that the word “twit” is synonymous with “fool” and “dope,” words that characterize many of these bug follies ;-)).

But I digress! So, this week in testing brings us an interesting heart device bug discovered March 12, 2008.

A team of computer security researchers were able to gain wireless access to a combination heart defibrillator and pacemaker. According to the New York Times,

[The researchers] were able to reprogram it to shut down and to deliver jolts of electricity that would potentially be fatal. The researchers said they had also been able to glean personal patient data by eavesdropping on signals from the tiny wireless radio embedded in the implant as a way to let doctors monitor and adjust it without surgery.

Full report and more after the bump!

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IE6 — The Zombie Browser That Can’t Be Killed

Developers have long awaited the death of Internet Explorer 6; web heavyweight like Google, Facebook, Reddit, Justin.tv and Digg have all announced the expiration date for their support of IE6; Microsoft has been steering users away from IE6 for more than a year.  And last week, a funeral was held for the outdated browser which was two parts wake and one part wish.  Even Microsoft joined in the fun, sending a card to the festivities services.

So what will it take to kill the undead browser once and for all?  Well, it’s worth noting — and shocking — that IE6 still drives nearly 20 percent of all web access from beyond the grave.

How is this possible?  What outdated luddite segment of web users is still stuck in 2001?  Well, the prime culprit is large enterprises like Intel who bemoan the cost and complexity of upgrading thousands of employees and legacy apps that were built specifically for IE6.  So while the web citizenry has moved on and is ready to pull the plug, developers (and testers), IE6 will continue to be part of the web app testing matrix for much longer than any of us would like to believe.

Just to further illustrate the insanity of IE6’s continued survival, here are a few other things that were going on in 2001:

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Say It Ain’t So, Joel

When it comes to software development and programming, few people have been read, linked to, tweeted, quoted or plagiarized more than Joel Spolsky (@spolsky). But despite his adoring fans, the widely known blogger and entrepreneur has decided to give up the former (his wildly popular blog) to focus on the latter (his growing business).

Joel’s final farewell – Let’s Take This Offline – appeared on Inc.com a few days ago, where he discussed the fallacy of blogging as business strategy, time commitment and the common mistakes of most company blogs. Of course, he also addressed his reasons for “retiring”:

So, having become an Internet celebrity in the narrow, niche world of programming, I’ve decided that it’s time to retire from blogging. March 17, the 10th anniversary of Joel on Software, will mark my last major post. This also will be my last column for Inc. For the most part, I will also quit podcasting and public speaking. Twitter? “Awful, evil, must die, CB radio, sorry with only 140 chars I can’t tell you why.

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