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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It’s All Fun And Games Until Someone Loses A PS3

We usually like to keep things pretty light around here.  But this post is a public service announcement of the most urgent nature.  I don’t want to alarm anyone, and I’m not prone to exaggeration, but clearly software apps are rising up for the coming war against the humans.

First it was our cars (and then more cars); then it was unmanned aircraft.  But now, it’s gotten serious – because now the software uprising of 2010 is messing with our games.

Nick Saint (@ncsaint) over at Business Insider describes just how bad things have gotten in this latest battle between man and machine:

Owners of older models of Sony’s PS3 have been afflicted by a bug in the system’s internal clock. Unless you have a PS3 Slim, leave your machine off until word comes down that the bug has been fixed, or risk permanently losing data.

What’s next — our Foreman grills?  Our laser pointers?  Our lava lamps?  So consider this a call-to-arms for all who develop and test software.  The war is on.  And lately, the software (and its well-hidden bugs) are winning.  Izzy Mandelbaum was right:  It’s go time here, people!

Old Bug Up To New Tricks

SCMagazine reported this week that researchers in Malta have discovered a decade-old vulnerability, present in all versions of Windows since 2000.  This bug can cause PCs to crash instantaneously and without warning, as well as reeling the compromised machine into a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack.  This exploit is only dangerous if the user is duped into running an app with the malicious code (according to Paul Gafa, CTO of 2X Software).


The bug was discovered while Gafa was writing a software testing app:

“You can be the least privileged user on the system and still crash it,” Gafa said. “I believe it is very easy for Microsoft to sort it out. They just need to validate arguments passed to Windows APIs.” (source: SC Magazine)

Microsoft is currently aware of the defect and responded with this insight:

“Our initial assessment of the report is that malicious code would have to already be running or a user would have to be able to run a specially crafted application to cause the system to crash. In either case, the system has already been compromised or the user has rights to logon to the system.”

I’m curious to hear if anyone has other stories of old bugs causing new problems or vulnerabilities?

What Has 47,000+ Thumbs And Now Offers Load & Performance Testing Services?

In the 18 months since our August 2008 launch, the name uTest has become synonymous with functional testing.  We help companies hunt down and kill the bugs in every corner of their web, desktop or mobile apps.  But a funny thing happened along the way:  as our customers have grown (in number, in size, in technical sophistication), we’ve found ourselves getting pulled into QA-related conversations outside of just functional testing.

Among the most popular topics has been load & performance testing.  Companies of all shapes and sizes have been asking for our advice; asking our opinions about various synthetic load tools; asking us what other companies are using; and ultimately, asking us to help them ensure their web apps are ready to perform under peak loads.

So after extensive research and a great deal of planning, uTest is ready to announce a new and better way to perform load testing on your web app.  We’re offering three different flavors of load testing services:

  • Live Load: A team of live testers from around the globe can test an application simultaneously, enabling customers to see how their web app performs under truly real-world usage conditions
  • Simulated Load: Requiring no live testers, uTest’s simulated load testing provides customers with a complete analysis of a web app’s performance under peak synthetic load
  • Hybrid Load: Combining live testers with best-of-breed simulated load tools, uTest’s hybrid load testing enables customers to perform functional testing while their web application is under heavy synthetic load

We think our approach to load testing is altogether unique and will be extremely valuable to companies of all types, but we’re also exceedingly biased.  But our early load testing customers and the software testing pundits seem to agree:

We’ll update this post with more links as the news rolls in.  Questions about how load testing works via a community of professional testers?  Check out our load testing section for details.  Or drop us a note and ask us anything.

Join Us @ QUEST — Quality & Software Testing Conference (April 19-23)

QUEST, one of the top software testing conferences, will be held in Dallas this year (April 19-23).  And uTest is getting geared up and is thrilled to be a part of this conference.

In addition to inviting Doron to be a keynote presenter, QUEST features a week-long agenda packed with more than 100 opportunities for attendees to build new skills and prepare for the testing professions of the future.

From exploratory testing to test automation to security audits to crowdsourced testing,  QUEST will cover a wide range of testing topics that give attendees insight into the latest best practices and innovative approaches to testing today. To learn more, here’s a sneak peek at the QUEST Magazine.

Special Note: Members of the uTest community interested in registering for QUEST are eligible for

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Users Use; And Testers Test

VentureBeat has an interesting article about eBay’s announcement that they’re going to tap into their user base to test new features — a kind of opt-in, ongoing beta program for new features.  The title for this article:

eBay to Use Crowdsourcing to Test New Features, Starting with Streamlined Search

Those who know me well know that defending the purity of the term”crowdsourcing”  against misuse is a pet cause of mine (e.g. – Meet-ups are not crowdsourcing; online polls are not crowdsourcing; asking your Twitter followers a question is not crowdsourcing). But don’t worry… this won’t be another rant about the importance of definitions and how critical labels are.  Well, at least not about the word “crowdsourcing”.

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International Date Line Bug Caused Fighter Aircraft Systems Crash

With our testing community currently hammering away in the “Bug Battle of the TV Networks” this week, it’s time to take a moment to reflect on our February bug-iversary.

On February 11, 2007, during its very first overseas deployment to Okinawa, Japan, six F-22 Raptors flying from Hawaii experienced multiple computer crashes, including navigation, communication and fuel system crashes, when crossing the International Date Line.

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