Category Archives: Recomended

“Testing – How does one learn QA?” – An answer I posted on the StackOverflow “Programers” forum

Ziv, the questioner asks: ” … how would one proceed if he wants to learn QA?

More specifically, a programmer who wants to learn about the QA process and how to manage a good QA methodology. I was given the role of jumpstarting a QA process in our company and I’m a bit lost, what are the different types of testing (system, integration, white box, black box) and which are most important to implement first? How would one implement them?

I wrote:

There are simple rules of thumb.

Try what the manual says. Install and run on a clean target, user license, the works. Does it work? Did you have to add anything not covered in the manual?

Are all the default control values usable? Or is there something that’s wrong, or blank, by default and always has to be changed?

Set every value in the user interface to something other than its default. Can you detect a difference caused by the change? Is it correct? Do them one at a time, or in the smallest sets possible, to make the results clear.

Set every value in the user interface to a second, non-default, value. Change everything at once. Can you detect the difference? Is it correct?

One by one, do something to cause every error message to be generated. Do something similar, but correctly, so that no error message is generated.

All of the above depend on changing a condition, between an “A” case and a “B” case, and that change having a detectable result. Then the “C” case produces another change, another result, and so forth. For 10 tests, you need 11 conditions. Using defaults as much as possible is a good first condition.

By now you’ve got a list of things to test, that you recorded, and results, that you recorded, and maybe some new bugs. Throw something big and complicated at the solution. Give it a file of 173000 words to sort, paste a Jane Austin novel or some telecommunications standard 100 pages long, a 50MB bitmap graphic, 3 hours of streaming video. Open the performance monitor and get CPU-bound, or I/O bound. For an hour. Check memory use: always increasing? Rises and falls?

Take the list of bugs closed in the last week, month, sprint, etc. Check them. All. Are they really fixed?

Keep track of what to do, how it worked on what version/release/build/configuration, open and closed bugs, what controls have been set or changed, what data, test files or examples have been used, etc. is all part of Quality world. Keep results as tables in a spread sheet, make version controlled backups / saves.

Someone writing software, or any one creating anything, has an idea of what they’re trying to make. The quality process starts with expectations. Requirements, specifications, rules, or another articulation of what’s expected. Then there’s the solution, the thing offered to perform, assist, enable or automate what’s expected. Then there are tests, operations, examples, inspections, measurements, questionnaires, etc., to relate one or more particular solution(s) to (relevant) expectations. Finally, there’s an adjustment, compensation, tuning, correction or other positive action that is hoped to affect the solution(s).

When one writes software, one has a goal of it doing something, and to the extent that’s expressed, the behavior can be checked. Hello.exe displays “Hello World” on a screen. “2**150” in the Python interpreter displays, “1427247692705959881058285969449495136382746624L”. Etc. For small problems and small solutions, its possible to exhaustively test for expected results. But you wouldn’t test a word processor just by typing in some words, or even whole documents. There are limits of do-ability and reason. If you did type in all of “Emma” by Jane Austin, would you have to try her other four novels? “Don Quixote” in Spanish?

Hence an emphasis on expectations. Meeting expectations tells you when the solution is complete. My web search for “Learn Quality Assurance” just returned 46 million potential links, so there’s no shortage of opinions. Classic books on the subject (my opinion, worth what you paid for it:) include

  • Quality is Free” by Philip Crosby,
  • Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” by Robert Pursig
  • Managing the Software Process” by Watts Humphrey
  • “The Mythical Man Month” by Fred Brooks
  • Code Complete” by Steve McConnell

Take 5 minutes to read some of the Amazon reviews of those books and you’ll be on your way. Get one or more and read them. They’re not boring. Browse ASQ, Dr. Dobbs, Stack Overflow. Above all, just like writing software. DO it. Consider the quality of some software under your control. Does it meet expectation? If so, firm hand-shake and twinkle in the eye. Excellent!. If not, can it be corrected? Move to the next candidate.

I like the Do-Test-Evaluate-Correct loop, but its not a Universal Truth. Pick a process and follow it consciously. Have people try the testing, verification and validation steps described in the language manual they use most frequently. Its right there on their desk, or in their phone’s browser.

Look at your expectations. Are they captured in a publicly known place? With revision control? Does anyone use them? Is there any point where the solutions being produced are checked against the expectations they are supposed to be meeting?

Look at your past and current bug reports. (You need a bug tracking system. If you don’t have one, start there.) What’s the most common catastrophic bug that stops shipment or requires an immediate patch? Whats the most commonly reported customer bug? What’s the most common bug that doesn’t get fixed?

Take a look at ISO 9000 process rules. Reflect on value to your customers/users. Is there’s a “customer value statement” that explains how some change affects the customer’s perception of the value of the solution? How about in the requirements?

By “the QA process”, you could mean “Quality Assurance”, versus “QC”, “Quality Control”? You might start with the web site, where the “American Society for Quality” dodges the question by not specifying “Control” (their old name was “ASQC”) or “Assurance”.

Quality; alone, “assured” or “controlled”, is a big idea with multiple, overlapping definitions and usages. Some will tell you it cannot be measured in degrees- its present or not, no “high quality” or “low quality” for them. Another famous claim is that no definition is satisfactory, so its good to talk about it, but avoid being pinned down in a precise definition. How do you feel about it?


The original posting is at


Father’s day tides at Moss Beach:

Here’s the tide table for this coming weekend at Moss Beach, just north of Princeton By The Sea, at the north edge of Half Moon Bay. High tide, +6 feet, at Midnight between Friday and Saturday, 1:00am between Saturday and Sunday. Low, low, tides at 7:00am, -1.5 feet!! on Saturday, -1.25 feet, at 7:48am, Sunday.
So, by crackie, we’ll be there as early as we an on Sunday. Sunrise is before 6:00am, so no shortage of light. Do a web search and you’ll discover this place has the best tidepools that ever existed- perhaps 1/4 mile or more along the coast, as much as 200 yards off shore of the normal high tide mark. A huge shelf of very low quality rock, normally around or perhaps a bit below the 0 foot level, that will be a good foot above sea level on Sunday Morning.

An example that pleased me: The difference between an abstract class and an interface, in Java:

Here’s the punch line:

In Java, Prussia can extend (“be a”) one of the super-classes, Holy, Roman or  Empire, but only one. Prussia can implement the other two as interfaces, but only with methods and fields uniquely its own. If Prussia is to be Holy, be Roman and be an Empire, the strictly hierarchical relationship of those three super-classes has to be worked out separately and in detail, in advance. I can only imagine Herr von Bismark would approve.


And the whole magilla:
1) What is the difference between an interface and an abstract class?

An abstract class defines data (fields) and member functions but may not, itself, be instantiated. Usually, some of the methods of an abstract class are abstract and expected to be supplied by a sub-class, but some of the methods are defined.  Unless they are final, they can be overridden, and they can always be overloaded. Private parts of an abstract super class, for example, data, are not available to a subclass, so access methods (public or protected) must be used by the subclass. An abstract superclass is “extended” by a subclass. A given subclass may only extend one super-class, but a super-class may extend another super-class, in a hierarchy. (This avoids the complexities/difficulties of multiple inheritance in C++)

An interface is a proper subset of an abstract class, but has a different scope and use. An interface has ONLY abstract member functions and static, final, fields, aka constants. Any subclass has to provide all the variable fields and code which implements an interface. The implementing class cannot override the interface’s member signatures – the signatures are what the interface *is*. It is possible to overload an interface’s signatures, adding or subtracting variables, changing return or variable types, but the overloads do not satisfy the requirements of the interface. The implementing class(s) must contain actual member functions to satisfy all of the signatures in the interface, because there is no default, no code in the interface.  As used above, a given class ‘implements’ an interface, it does not ‘extend’ it. These limitations to an interface allow a given class to implement more than one, which retains most of the utility of multiple inheritance without, as it were, opening Plethora’s bag. (grin)

For example: In Java, Prussia can extend (“be a”) one of the super-classes, Holy, Roman or  Empire, but only one. Prussia can implement the other two as interfaces with methods and fields uniquely its own. If Prussia is to be Holy, be Roman and be an Empire, the strictly hierarchical relationship of those three super-classes has to be worked out separately and in detail, in advance. I can only imagine Herr von Bismark would approve.

Colors & materials for Apollo 11 CM, SM & LM. What the hardware looked like. For the Dragon kit.

Thanks to my beloved wife Jean, I got a Dragon Apollo 11 on the Moon kit, for Christmas! 1/72 scale, new tooling (same as their die-cast metal collectable?)

The short form on real, as-flown-in-1969, surfaces and finishes:

Command Module.

The actual Apollo Command module was covered with strips of mirror finish aluminized plastic micrometeoroid shield and thermal insulation, on the visible surfaces. The ablative heat shield, not visible until the CM and SM are separated, is said to have been painted a light gray color. During re-entry to Earth’s atmosphere, the mylar was mostly burned off and a light-gray painted structure under it became visible. Below that paint appears to have been a composite honeycomb material. I think it is unlikely that the actual pressure vessel that the crew lived in touched the outside surface except at the hatch edges.

In pictures of the remaining, unused, Apollo CSM (the emergency rescue vehicle for Skylab), you can see the stripe pattern of the plastic tape on the CM exterior, but in contemporary photographs, it looks like one piece of mirror polished aluminum. Like an American Airline’s jet airliner.

The fold-flat handles on the outside of the CSM, for astronaut Extra-Vehicular Activities (EVAs) were painted a glossy yellow, like the similar hand-rails on the the Hubble Space Telescope.

The docking capture and latch mechanism mounted on the outside of the tunnel, above the front hatch of the CM, is primarily titanium-looking metal, with a chromed, presumably retractable or spring loaded or damped, shaft.  There are darkened metal handles in the mechanism, probably painted or anodized a dark blue dark gray or black.

The inside of the tunnel itself, behind the docking capture mechanism, is light gray with 12 blue-anodized cylinder-topped arms at the top, some black and some other colors of boxes, and wires,

Service module:

The Service module exterior was  painted with an aluminum paint, except for radiator areas fore and aft which were white, two “ram’s horn” antennas that were white or light gray, and 24 narrow stripes (about 25%) on panels under the RCS thrusters. The area under “United States” may or may not have been light gray, and many labels on the exterior appear to be black text on light gray background.

The main engine exhaust bell is complex, but a bluish gray for the biggest, lower, part, outside, and reddish gray for the upper part, outside, is a good start. The top of the bell joins the reddish part at a flange, with bright bare metal fasteners by the dozen. The top of the bell, the last part visible beyond (below) the Inconel heat shield, is wrapped in the mylar and-or “H-film” ( aka “Kapton”) insulation and micrometeoroid shield. The back of the CM is mostly covered by 4 stamped quadrants what looks like thin Inconel nickel-copper high temp metal. The furthest outer edge of the end of the Service Module is painted with aluminum paint just like the sides.

Lunar Module:

The Lunar Module has two very different areas of finish: The descent (lower) stage is primarily wrapped in thermal insulation / micromedeoroid protection, a multilayer collection of  Kapton (“H film”) and Mylar, and other, exotic, things, with metal evaporated/ plated on them for protection. A lot of what looks ‘black’ is actually a black-finished foil or mylar.

The descent engine has a medium gray exterior and nestles in an Inconel-lined cavity in the descent stage.

The ascent (upper) stage of the Lunar Module is about half black-finished and half anodized Aluminum. Yes, the Aluminum looks like its dark, like Titanium, or has a distinct gray-beige-green tone. All true, many have remarked on the hard-to-describe colors. Grumman’s construction documents for the whole thing, facet by facet, are on line, and they specify Phosphoric acid and Sulfuric Acid anodizing of the various aluminum alloy pieces.  Some Mylar or “H film” wrapping is on the the outside of the ascent module. The ascent engine has a semi-gloss white exterior, with a textile-like “wrapped” texture. This may be thermal insulation, similar to the thick batts of insulation wrapped around the F1 engines of the Saturn V first stage.

There are two dish antennae on the ascent stage, Both have white-painted dishes and are generally black otherwise. The antenna directly above the lunar egress hatch and the front windows has black foil everywhere except the inside of the dish. The signal radiator in the center of the dish is white.

The antenna off on the starboard side of the ascent stage has a semi-gloss black mechanism and flat black on the back on the dish. Black, also, on the 4 legs and the forward reflector in front of the dish.

In more detail:

Command Module.

The Reaction Control System (RCS) engine nozzles on the CM have an oxidized copper color in their throats, and a slightly corrugated texture. Photos of post-re-entry CMs show a ring of the same oxidized copper color outside the nozzles, but the aluminized mylar covers these rings up to the edges of the RCS engine bells.

The forward and side windows for the two outside crew stations have black anti-glare finish around the windows, and red-orange silicone seals at every layer of the windows.

Below or behind the port side windows and the crossed RCS nozzles are a pair of drain valves, white 5/8 spheres with gold-toned dots at the outside. A very similar purge valve is installed on the starboard side of the side hatch.

On both sides, below windows, RCS nozzles, etc and the edge of the ablative re-entry shield, there are translucent white dots. Under the Mylar there are black partial circles around these two translucent circles,. On the Service Module, there are matching white partial circles painted on the fairing at the top edge of the SM

A minor (very minor) mystery is what kind of plastic the reflective stuff on the CM is. The expected temperature range in the space environment was wider than NASA was comfortable using Mylar, generally, uncovered, in the thermal insulation blankets covering the LM Descent Stage. Therefore, the outer layer of those blankets is always Kapton (“H film”), which is usable over the expected temperature range.  Of course, a blanket of up to 25 layers of plastic, using microthicknesses of vacuum deposited metal for insulation, is fundamentally different from a pressurized honeycomb structure wrapped with a layer of glued-on plastic tape. Maybe the thermal mass and inertia of the CM (and the slow-rolling passive thermal control regime) kept conditions on the outside of the CM suitable for Mylar, Maybe the CM plastic has the metal side “out”, unlike the majority of LM applications which are generally plastic side out (hence the gold-amber color: its not gold foil, its aluminized Kapton with the metal in and the plastic out.

Service module:

Inside the main engine exhaust bell is complex. At the bottom, inside the bluish gray outside, are 16 dark metal petals with strong textures. Inside the reddish-gray part of the bell are a set of 6 petals and then a solid ring- all a glossy dark color.  Above the dark, solid, ring, is a white metal ring, something like aluminum colored. Above that is an orangey brown and then at the peak of the engine is a light, metallic-finished plate with 5 stamped spokes and a central cap.

Lunar Module:

How I plan to reproduce these colors:

Command Module:

The glued-flat aluminized mylar on the real thing doesn’t look like any paint, even mirror polished aluminum. It looks like mylar, darker than polished aluminum. I have seen photos on-line of Apollo CMs finished in Bare Metal Foil, in the correct striped pattern. But I don’t see the stripes unless I look very closely in the 1960s photos- they’re easy to see in flash photos taken today, on the leftover CSM lifeboat for Skylab that never flew. But not in pictures of Apollo 11, or 15, or any of the other hardware that was flown.

Sooooo: Bare Metal Foil remains possible, or very thin aluminum foil, polished and clear-coated. “Chrome” spray paint would not be a bad choice. Having the kit part polished and then vacuum coated with aluminum would be very close to the real thing. Brush-painting Testor’s Chrome Silver oil-based paint or another similar non-water-based product is also a thought – the occasional brushmark could be said to represent the stripes of the Mylar…

“Chrome” spray paint or Metalizer Buffable Aluminum rattle can are the top two contenders at the moment. I’m going to do a study with each and see which I like more  watch this space.

Service Module:

Polly-scale Reefer White (that’s as in Refrigerator White, the rail-road color) is my call for the white paint on the lower and upper ring radiators, the two ‘tabs’ containing the ram’s horn antennas, and the white areas near the RCS boxes. My own mix for Boeing Aircraft Company #707 Gray is my first choice for the Light Gray RCS boxes, unless they’re white too, have to check again before I commit myself. The Inconel heat shield could be Polly Scale Stainless Steel, maybe with a bit of yellow added to bring out the nickel ‘color’… Inconel is a copper-nickel alloy and its attraction is that it holds its strength at high temperatures, not that its intrinsically tough stuff like titanium. It actually cuts and polishes pretty readily, but the important thing is that its clearly NOT aluminum. Completely different color. Not unlike stainless steel, which is, itself, not like steel OR aluminum.

Lunar Module:

Today’s note to Speaker Boehner. Raise the debt ceiling. Raise my taxes. Reduce spending. In that order.

(I sent essentially the same points to our Senators and Representative Lee too.)

Speaker Boehner,
Budgets, a borrowing limit and taxes are the topic du jur. Here are my priorities:

#1 Raise the debt ceiling. The Tea Party wackos can say anything they want, but they don’t have a majority in the congress to override the veto of the Adult in Chief, nor do they run the Senate. You’re playing “dog in the manger” and it belittles you, your party and our country. You’ve stated your opinion. The nation does not agree. Time to do the people’s business, without gimmicks or gotchas.

#2 Raise my taxes. We’re well off. Really. If we’re paying 17%, of our income in taxes, as Turbotax tells me, then it should probably be 18% or 19%. Thousands more, per year. Giving rich people tax breaks and living on the credit card is crazy. Time to stop. Paying down the accumulated debt would be good too.

#3 Cut spending. Start with all the things people say they now get that they don’t need. Not what other people get, what they benefit from themselves. Don’t cut something that benefits Paula to make Peter happy. People willing to give their own money, in the form of higher taxes, or forgo benefits they enjoy, lower payments, have something to say. People who want to cut other people’s benefits or get a net reduction in what they pay and have someone else fix the problem aren’t worth your time. That would include the majority of the Republican Party and pretty much all of the Tea Party.

Stand tall. Show some leadership. Propose an unconditional rise in the debt ceiling, at this late hour, and see who the real patriots are. Stanley Crouch once observed that not getting what you want is a democratic act. Perhaps the fundamental one. Kings and dictators and juntas rule by inspiration and conviction. Democracies are ruled by compromise.

Cutting billions of dollars in spending at the last minute under intense pressure, while the tinfoil hat brigade just want to wreck everything they don’t understand, isn’t any way for our great nation to be governed. You’ve had months to prepare for this business. Tossing out plans the CPO hasn’t scored yet isn’t doing what I pay you for. Your district elected you, but having asked to be Speaker, you work for me too. You’re doing a terrible job. Come to your senses.

Raise the debt limit. Raise my taxes, and your own. Cut spending on what we can’t afford. Or step aside and let an adult take the job.

Best regards,
Bill Abbott

Escape (‘\’) your “\” (backslash) characters when Python writes paths for Windows…

When using Python to prepare strings For Windows, always escape ‘\’ your “\” (backslash) characters in a path name. So ‘\\’ everywhere. It looks like a double ‘\’ but the first one is really “escape” and the second character is interpreted as a literal, not, in this case, as ‘escape’…

What am I talking about??

If your Python program will create file path names for Windows computers, you need to be extra thoughtful as you enter string constants for them.

For example, consider the string "blather\pather\gather"
Give that to the Python Interpreter, and it will show you how it is understood by Python:

>>> "blather\pather\gather"

See what happedened to “blather\pather\gather”?
Python put an escape back slash before each of the (presumably) literal back slashes. Its easy to see if you line them up:


The string delimiters have changed too- python gives ‘ and ” the same meaning, defaults to ‘ and requires them to be used in pairs. ” is an empty string, “” is an empty string, ‘” opens a quoted string inside a quoted string. Better not close it backwards: “”” is an empty string. “‘”‘ is missing a close “.

So far, so good. You might think Python will understand back slashes in things you identify as strings and respect them. That’s nice.

Change the string to

What’s that?? Turns out that Python recognizes “\r” as (carriage return), “\n” a newline and “\t” as a tab. And \a as (control)a, with is slightly startling. But not \G or \g as “bell”…

So they’re compound characters, and they get issued without escapes being added. Why? I don’t know. But I do know that putting an excape backslash before the delimiter backslash results in the text being left alone, and written out exactly the same. And when it goes to Windows, Windows strips off the first backslash and correctly interprets the second one.

Here’s an advantage for Python, as my friend James points out. You can just look at what it does and how it sees things. The realization I’m reporting started wth a Python script trying to call a Windows .bat script… it worked well for some .bat scripts and didn’t work for others. ?!?!?!

Lego Album Cover Art: More questions than answers!

First, have a look. If you are in the cultural group that recognizes these symbols, you may get a giggle:


Second, remember (or remember hearing about) all the tiresome discussions of

whether song lyrics were poetry, or could be;

whether album covers were art, or could be;

whether representations of real things were art, or could be;

whether non-representational collections of colors, textures, objects and lighting effects were art, or could be?

blah blah, blah blah blah, (Don’t forget gender, gender-role, ethnicity, class and other forms of differentiation…)

Well, faghedaboutit, ok? This is fun, not work!

And my hearty thanks to the makers of this work. And what it represents, imperfectly.