Saturday, May 31, 2008

Using video screen capture in testing

We had a very interesting issue in a project where the client was reporting an error in a screen that had hundreds of input fields but the client was not able to give us reproducible steps for the error. All that the client said was that the error was coming when a certain subset of values were selected in the input fields and the subset did not remain the same each time. In this case without reproducible steps it was virtually impossible to solve the problem.

After a bit of thought, what we decided to do was to use Snagit video screen capture and record the screens of a group of developers using the screen causing the error extensively. Once we had this video we played it back and identified the points where the error was occurring and we could then rewind and take a snapshot of the screen just before the error occurred and also write down the steps that led to the data that caused the error. With this information we were able to identify a pattern that was causing the error and solved the problem easily.

Interesting problems always makes you think out of the box. If you have some experiences similar to these please leave them in the comments section.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Voting

We had by-elections in our constituency and having got my voter identity card only a month ago I decided to go and cast my vote. My wife did not get her voter identity card (not sure why) so we decided to check if the voters list was online and if we could find any information. So a quick google search led us to http://ceo.ap.gov.in/.

Having filled in all the fields marked with * we were easily able to find her name in the list. We then wrote down the Part No and the Serial No in list and went to the polling booth and we were able to get the voting slip with absolutely no issues. We then proceeded to the voting booth and cast our vote. Its very interesting to see how simple and wonderful the whole electronic voting system is and how efficiently and accurately it works.

Technology can vary from being very complex and doing thousands of things to it being simple but being limited in its capability. The adoption of technology is possible if it meets a set of desired goals while allowing it to be simple and usable. The electronic voting machines that are used are limited in their ability but the goals of it have been chosen so wonderfully that it is usable and hence it is being adopted so easily and effectively.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Defect Fixing : Biggest Project Risk

I was working on some estimates for a project by first estimating the size of the project and then estimating the effort by looking at some historical data on similar sized applications done in the past. What we realised that in all our projects we were pretty much on track with the estimated efforts until we reached the validation testing phase. In this phase we realised that we were spending anywhere between the initial estimated effort and three times the initial estimated effort.

I then tried to analyse why we had such a vast variation in the estimates for this phase and I found that the prime reason for this is because there are defects slipping through all the other phases into the testing phase and thus skewing the entire estimate. If there is no control on the other phases of the project then this phase is pretty much a mess and usually it is so late in the project that it is very hard to recover from the mistakes made in the other phases.

So if you see the project team can never be lax in any of the phases as all the inaccuracies crop up and bite you in the testing phase and sometimes fixing issues so late in the project may not be possible and hence the team starts working on workarounds thus messing up the project even further. So right from requirements right up to the project is handed over to the testing team to be tested the project team should employ methods such as reviews and code walk through along with Proof of Concepts to ensure that everything that is being developed is validated so that issues do not crop up later on.

We tried to employ this in one project but there were a lot of uneasiness early in the project as there was no visible progress being made as concepts were being validated with Proof of Concepts and design documents being written and reviewed. But what we realised was that with detailed documentation the coding phase was hardly anything and the testing phase was even shorter and the end result was code that one could really be proud of as it had no workarounds and it worked exactly as desired. The best part of this was we delivered ahead of schedule as we could multitask and plan a lot better with detailed designs.

Hence short cuts taken early in the project end up creating the biggest risk of the project and that risk is an inestimable number of defects late in the project. Another problem due to this risk is that you will not be able to give a definite delivery date to business because you don't know the defects that will arise and the complexity or severity of the defects and this is something business hates. So to save yourself this risk employ quality assurance/quality control activities in every phase of the software development lifecycle.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Microsoft advertising on Google Ads

I was browsing a website today and it was interesting to see a Microsoft Ad come on Google Ads. Amidst all the battles that are being fought, it does look like Microsoft does needs Google's extensive ad network to popularize their products.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Trip to Puri, Orissa : Konark Temple

The trip from the resort to Konark was along a very scenic tree lined road along the beach. There are quite a few places from which you can see the sea along the route and I wish I was on a motorcycle on this road as the road does not have any traffic and it also very smooth with no potholes.

In Konark it is about a kilometer from where you have to get down to where the temple is located. Since it was quite hot we felt every step of this walk. The temple itself is quite well maintained but unless you are really interested in looking at stone carvings there is really not much to see other than the fact that you visited the place.

The beach itself is quite small and not very clean. You cannot go for a dip in the waters as it is not safe. So in just about 5 minutes we were bored and ready to head back. On the way back there is a picnic spot that seemed quite nice. You have to cross a river to get to a beach but I am not sure if you could get into the water here as there was no body on the beach as it was too hot.

Do not buy anything from the shops that line the street to the temple. We bought cashew nuts from there at a very cheap Rs. 100 per kilo but only the outside of the packet had nice big full cashew nuts and the inside was just pure waste which we had to throw out. You get lots of bead chains and trinkets but I would not advise anyone to buy anything from these shops.

On the whole the trip to Konark was not all that great as I am really not into history or stone carving but for those that are it is a very nice place to visit.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Unlocking password protected Excel files

Ever got into any of the following situations
  • You have password protected an Excel file and have subsequently forgotten the password
  • Got an excel file that is password protected and you want to access the contents of the file
Today I was in the first situation and after a bit of googling I came across the following application Excel Password Remover 2008 which is an add-in to excel.

It's very simple to use this tool
  • Download the add-in password.xla and save it at any location on your hard disk.
  • Load the add-in into excel by going to the following menu option Tools -> Add-Ins. Click on Browse in the window that pop-ups and find the password.xla file that is saved on your hard disk. It will then appear in the add-ins Available list. Make sure the checkbox next to the name of the add-in is checked before you click on ok. Once you click on OK you should get two new menu items in the tools menu Unprotect sheet and Unprotect workbook.
  • Open the file that you want to unprotect (note that you cannot use this tool to open excel files that are password protected to even open them. There are other suggested tools on the website but I have not tried them out). Click on Tools -> Unprotect Sheet and after a few seconds you will get a message that the sheet is unprotected.
  • Once you have unprotected all the sheets save the file to your hard disk and all the password protection would have been removed.
There is a negative side and positive side to such a tool
  • Password protecting excel worksheets is really not helpful as you can easily break the password.
  • You don't have to worry if you forget the password as there are tools such as this that can break it. The worry was there as Microsoft never gave a method of recovering the password if it was forgotten. I think password protection is a half baked solution they implemented in Excel.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Answering skribit entries - 1

Dear readers, Thank you for posting questions that you would like to ask me. I will try and answer them as and when there are 2 or more questions. Please continue using the skribit widget to interact with me and I would love to hear from you.

What is your most challenging aspect of blogging ?
My most challenging aspect of blogging is trying to find content that would engage my readers and that I enjoy writing about. Informational articles tend to do very well and are always among the top 10 articles on my blog. But it is not always easy to write informational articles as there is only so much information that you can give that is not already there online. I usually try writing informational articles from what happens in my real life that I think others can benefit from but then it is not everyday that I do something new and exciting to write about. So that's where my challenge lies in generating blog content. The upside to this is that it forces me to do new things in life so that I can write about it.

Do Social Bookmarking buttons bring more traffic to your site?
My personal experience is that they don't help. I am planning to take them off and just experiment with one button such as either digg or stumble it and also concentrate on only one social book marking site.

Also this article by Pro Blogger (http://www.problogger.net/archives/2008/05/02/my-top-10-traffic-sources/gives) gives you an interesting insight that even a popular site like pro blogger gets less than 5% of his traffic from social networking sites. In my case it has been close to 0%. So other than occupying space on your blog and making your web page heavier it does not give you any tangible benefits.

Friday, May 02, 2008

New Skribit widget on my blog

I have added a new skribit widget to my blog on the right sidebar. The reason I have added this widget is so that I can hear about any of your queries/ideas that you have when you read an article. Please feel free to post your ideas and suggestions.

It is very easy to use this widget, in order to post a query/idea just click on "What should I write about" and it will give you a small text field to post your query/idea and you are done. If you see someone else's comment already covering the query/idea you want to put then you can vote on it to show that there are multiple people interested in the same query/idea.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Trip to Puri, Orissa : Boat Ride

About 5 min from the resort by bus is a barrage on the Nuanai River. On one side of this barrage is fresh water and on the other side that joins into the sea is salt water. The resort arranged for a boat ride from the barrage till the point the river meets the sea. The cost of the boat ride is Rs. 100 per head. The ride from the barrage to the sea is about 45 min either way and you reach a very nice stretch of beach. We were told that it is not safe to swim here as the sand is not stable where the river meets the sea. When you go on this boat ride you go past some fishing villages and you can see fisherman casting their nets in the water and showing off their catch. The river itself is tree lined and quite beautiful.

We also saw some skeletons of Olive Ridley turtles that come here to hatch their young. We were also lucky to see a jelly fish that got washed ashore. There are also tons of shells to collect from the sea shore. This boat ride surely was one of the highlights of my trip to Puri and I think it is a must do for anyone visiting this area.