Monthly Testing Newsletter -- April 2000

Software Development Process (requirements, project management, methodology, etc.)

Article: Why You Only Need to [Usability] Test With 5 Users

Found by Tim Myers

Some people think that usability is very costly and complex and that user tests should be reserved for the rare web design project with a huge budget and a lavish time schedule. Not true. Elaborate usability tests are a waste of resources. The best results come from testing no more than 5 users and running as many small tests as you can afford.

Article: How to Build Reliable Code

The first thing to understand: It is hard to build complex software that works well. In the search for salvation, or what software engineer and author Fred Brooks calls the silver bullet, many people look to models, techniques, and tools.

Reference: Unified Modeling Language (UML) Dictionary

A public-domain online dictionary of terms used in UML. This is a very nice reference to understand at a high level how particular terms are used and related in UML.

Article: Why Complex Technology Projects Are Usually "Late"

Have you ever worked on a complex technology project that was completed on time? Probably not. And when a project is late, we usually feel bad about it, and the people who depend on us feel let down. The problem is that our intuition about scheduling is misleading us. It's all so avoidable -- if only we understand what's really going on, we can dramatically improve our ability to project schedules.


Software Testing & Quality

Article: Software Testing Best Practices

This article, by the director of the IBM Center for Software Engineering, examines 28 "best practices" which improve the effectiveness of software testing that have been identified in their research. They divide the practices into three categories (basic, foundational and incremental) based on the payback (largest to smallest). The most interesting aspect of the paper is that most of the practices are process and project related rather than things that the testing group itself does.

Editorial: The Problem with 63,000 Bugs

Interesting perspective on the "leaked" memo from Microsoft that said that Windows 2000 shipped with 63,000 known bugs (see The editorial focuses nicely on the process of analyzing bugs and determining which ones to fix and which ones to defer.


Reference: UNIXHelp for Users

Sometimes I shudder when I think about having to do something in Unix. This site is an excellent reference for Unix commands and contains a number of useful "how-to" articles and a DOS-to-Unix command cross-reference.

Tutorial: Introduction to XML

The interest in XML comes especially from two directions: the Web, which is reaching the limits of HTML and SGML publishing, which is looking for a way onto the Web. This document addresses both groups of interest. It gives a short description of XML, its origin, its concepts and its purpose.

Tutorial: ATM Fundamentals

This is a training manual from one of WCG's testing equipment suppliers, TTC, which provides a good introduction to Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) which is one of the core technologies for Williams Network.



Career Development/Miscellaneous

Essay: On Being the Bearer of Bad News

Engineers are sometimes in the position of being the bearers of bad news. An experienced engineer will not report a problem empty-handed -- it is always wise to have some idea of a solution to present to management. Nonetheless, finding a major problem that disrupts the execution of a project plan can make life difficult for an engineer.


Telecommunications Industry

Article: The Optical Revolution

Infinite bandwidth. Real-time provisioning. Are you ready for the new telecoms?

Revolutionary changes take years. Revolutions happen overnight. By those standards, the telecom industry is going through a revolution-a revolution at the speed of light. New optical gear due out in 2000 will fundamentally change the business of designing and delivering telecom services. And while carriers cope with implementing optical gear into their networks, network managers are free to sit on the sidelines and reap the rewards.

Article: Media industry lays groundwork for new high-speed networks

While telephone and cable companies fight for Web surfers' high-speed Internet dollars, the media industry--intent on delivering its content using its own means--is quietly building a new set of broadband networks.

Article: Formerly of WilTel: Telecom heavies open McLeod office

A pioneering group of telecommunications executives has joined McLeodUSA Inc., an Iowa- based wholesale telecommunications company, and it is opening a Tulsa office in a bid to become a force in wholesale data and Internet services.

Article: Tables turning for old-world telecom firms?

The big telephone companies have for months been unsuccessful in their attempts to persuade investors they deserve to be among the market's high-flying technology stocks. But as those stratospheric Internet-driven shares have come crashing to earth, the stodgier communications stocks are suddenly looking like a better bet, analysts say.


Useful Utilities

FreeMeter (Free - Windows 9x/NT - 404kB)

FreeMeter is a system tray utility that displays system statistics including drive space, CPU, page (virtual memory swap) file, and physical memory usage. It is highly customizable allowing you to choose what statistics to monitor, what items to display in the system tray, and the update frequency. This might be just the tool you need to unobtrusively monitor for application bottlenecks or memory leaks.

OnTop (Free - Windows 9x/NT - 15kB)

OnTop is a handy system tray utility which allows you to make any window (only one at a time, of course!) "Always On Top". Very useful for other utilities (such as, FreeMeter!) that you need to monitor periodically while doing other activities. In addition to adding "Always On Top" functionality to any application, it also has a "hide" feature which allows you to selectively hide application windows. This is nice when you have an application that you need to have running, but don't want it to take up space on the taskbar or task list.

Klik-A-Dir (Free - Windows 9x/NT - 139kB)

Klik-A-Dir is a unique "floating" window application which allows you to quickly navigate to any directory on your system, including network drives. It allows you to, among other things, Open, Explore, or open a Command Prompt for any directory or, optionally, to launch an application program in those directories. The window can quickly be hidden and then accessed again via a system tray icon. (Note: It's a little slow with network directories, but works great for local hard drives.)


Productivity Tips

Quickly search for data in MS Excel

MS Excel has a little-known, but very handy feature called "AutoFilter" that allows you do quick searches (called "filters") for rows which have a particular value. To use it, select one cell that contains the desired information. Then choose Data | Filter à AutoFilter from the menu. Excel will place buttons with down arrows in the lower right corner of the cells on that row of the worksheet. Click on the button for the criteria that you wish to filter (sort) by and select the appropriate choice. (The list will automatically populate with all of the values in the column below the filter row.) In addition, the drop down list has some other choices such as "(All)", "(Top 10)", "(Blanks)", and "(NonBlanks)" which may be useful. The column that has the currently active filter criteria (more than one column can be used) will have a blue arrow on the dropdown button. Also, the rows that are returned will have the row number in blue.

Open files in native application instead of web browser

By default, many applications, including MS Word and Excel, provide integration with your web browser. Thus, if you click on a .DOC or .XLS file, the file opens in the browser window. This is not very useful if you need to print or modify the file. To disable the browser integration, launch Windows Explorer. In Explorer, select View | Options... from the menu and select the File Types tab. In the Registered file types list, select the desired type, such as Microsoft Excel Worksheet, and press Edit... In the Edit File Type window, deselect (uncheck) the Browse in same window option and press OK. Finally, close the Options window. The next time you click on a file of that type in your browser, it will open in its native application window.

What's taking up so much space on the e-mail server?!

You may have sometime received an automatic notification in Outlook that you've exceeded your quota of storage space (typically, 50 MB) on the Exchange e-mail server. This is helpful, but how do you know what's really taking up so much space? You can check the total space that you're using by selecting Outlook Today in the Folder List, right-clicking and choosing Properties for "Mailbox..." from the context menu. In the General tab of the Properties window, select Folder Size... Outlook will display details on the space used in each server folder. You can do the same thing with your Personal Folders, as well.


Just For Fun

Site: Soda Constructor

Recommended by David Oldham and Darren Fuqua

This is a very cool Java applet that allows you to adjust properties of a wire-frame model that "walks". Here's the description (and a "warning") from the site:

Constructor animates and edits two-dimensional models made out of masses and springs. Springs can be controlled by a wave to make pulsing muscles. Models can be constructed that bounce, roll, walk etc, try some of the ready made models or try to build your own... Warning! Constructor can seriously damage your productivity! It seems that some of you have been playing with constructor for hours. We regret that soda can accept no liability for loss of earnings incurred while building constructor creatures.