Monday, January 8, 2018

Fedora 27 Upgrade Issue - Solved by Removing yum-utils

Had a #meltdown upgrade to Fedora 27 stymied by a package conflict:

Error: Transaction check error:
  file /usr/bin/debuginfo-install conflicts between attempted installs of yum-utils-1.1.31-513.fc27.noarch and dnf-utils-2.1.5-1.fc27.noarch

I got around this by removing yum-utils.  It then allowed me to move on to the upgrade.  Got this idea from similar threads online.  Hoping anyone that runs into this after me will find this useful.

Here's to hoping the jump from 23 to 25 will be as significant as the one from 25 to 27.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Dan Learns How To Blog...

Here's a quick retrospective after 25,000 page views.  In 4 years, topics were all over the map.  Mainstream topics like hacking Skylanders brought organic traffic from search engines.  Posts in a niche subreddit has a way of bringing in links years on.  The Cards Against Mormonism and boardgame tables still get a few hits per week.

Advertising revenue was an interesting experience.  A free site has generated a whopping $10 in 4 years from Google, and I haven't seen a cent from Amazon referrals.  In all, it's interesting to see how hard it would be to make a living with just ad revenue.  Sponsorship makes a lot more sense in this light, but impartiality takes a hit.  The web runs on a sea of quid pro quo.

In terms of authoring content, I learned a few things that English class couldn't anticipate in 1999. Mentioning specific dates instead of relative dates keeps readers from having to calculate in their head and increases the possibility that they will stay for the whole article.  If you have a story idea that has been sitting in your drafts for more than 3 months, delete it.  Your enthusiasm to talk about it is probably not going to grow after that long.  Build logs and multi-part posts should be split into shorter posts.  This will ensure you stay on topic and don't ramble.  And don't talk about how long it's been since you last blogged.  I can assure you that no one it waiting with bated breath for your review of Behat's 3.4 release.

On to the next 25,000!  Hopefully it won't take me 4 years.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Review: Women in Tech

I finished reading @tarah's book Women in Tech. What better way to celebrate its paperback release than with a quick review.

Five years ago, I found my life turned inside out. People asked me deeply personal questions and questioned my basic competence. In the center of the maelstrom, I found comfort in a book with stories of people like me who were successful in spite of the difficulty. The stories were also paired with advice on how others has survived, thrived, and moved past the traumatic events.

In my case, my spouse had come out and I was coming to grips with my future as a straight half of a mixed orientation marriage. The book that helped me through that was The Other Side of the Closet: The Coming-Out Crisis for Straight Spouses and Families. Just knowing that I was not alone had a powerful influence. Therapy had helped; family could be supportive; friends might be weird. Those stories gave me the strength to say, "This too shall pass." 

For me, Women in Tech knocks it out of the park in a similar fashion. Concise, varied, authoritative women have lined up to share their experience making it in tech. Some faced abuse while others encountered discrimination. In the end, most felt the creeping fear of being an imposter (poignant in light of the abuse hurled at Equifax's Music Major CISO). For marginalized groups, simply knowing you're not alone can be enough strength for the day-to-day challenges.

The practical advice made it particularly useful for me. Coming to tech by way of tech support, I had no tutelage in interviewing, technical CV's, and salary negotiation. To this end, I've rewritten my resumé, registered a domain for this humble blog, and continue to try to organize a testing meetup in this desert town of mine. I don't know if each step individually will bear fruit, but together they make me feel less vulnerable to a manager's whim. I have a presence online and a skill to sell independent of any one job.

Broadly, Women in Tech has helped me understand the journey many of my co-workers have made. A fantastic tester with 20 years of experience that is comfortable in OpenVMS still expresses a lack of confidence in interpreting 'man words'. A skilled project manager guided countless projects from C-suite dream to customer reality while being a betimes single mom.  Being so broadly defined, tech needs diverse voices at all levels, and it particularly needs women and their contributions supported wherever possible.

There are plenty of gems in the book that I can't begin to address. My heart broke when the advice had to find a balance between optimism and reality. Having my spouse, an engineer by trade, transition made me want to learn more about the trans-in-tech experience. The constant refrain of Impostor's Syndrome makes me want to look for research papers. It is clear that Tarah has captured experiences with a depth and variety unavailable elsewhere.

I wouldn't be a hacker if I didn't mention the brain testing crypto puzzles at the heading of each chapter. Themed on famous women in tech, the learning curve is steep. I am currently stuck and, as the book makes perfectly clear, progress can only be made with help from all sides.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Testing uTest: or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Gig Economy

I’m a member of an online community of testers called uTest (the practitioner-facing side of Applause).  The company hosts a social network for testers as well as offers short-term gigs to its users (the cliched Uber for testers).    I was called on this weekend for my first gig: testing a payment method in Taxis.  It was pleasant, if stressful, and it made me think of ways a company could take advantage of it to expand the perspective on their products. 

After the initial invite to the test cycle, I communicated with a project manager via Skype to ensure I was able to carry out the test scenarios.  I brought to the table a specific model of phone and a verified ability to pull debug logs from it (thanks Verizon for turning off the op codes on my S4; I resorted to adb logcat).  They provided technical assistance and reimbursement for the transactions, but the primary incentive was a reward for test cases completed.

Throughout, I felt like a skilled secret shopper rather than a functional tester.  I was asked more about the non-software components of the launch than the app or phone functionality.  I reported on the advertisement of the feature, the education of the employees, and the capability of the equipment that supports the feature. In spite of expectations from the participating companies that the advertisement would match hardware would match training, this happened 0% of the time, and no employee had been informed why their equipment had been updated.  I wasn’t the only tester in this project on the ground, and the others testers saw related issues, and none had all their ducks in a row.  In all, the information they were most excited about was the boots-on-the-ground report I provided.  It was fascinating to see a live product launch from that perspective, and doubly so considering my history in this product space. 

The final bulk of time spent on this gig was an experience report.  Complete with detailed feedback, photos of the equipment, and other evidence, this is where I was able to comment on the process as a whole.  From a testing perspective, I was able to provide detailed UI/UX feedback, evaluate the consistency of the process, and help them understand how much of their plans actually came off during the launch period.  There was some repetition in these reports.  One was a document with pictures, the other was a survey that linked to the doc and a third was a JIRA-in-spreadsheets for tracking testers.  These reports were all submitted to the project manager for feedback, and I received an up/down "accepted" in less than 24 hours.  While there is definitely room for improvement on the platform that would reduce tester overhead, it wasn't enough of a burden to avoid gigs.

Participation in this project taught me that coordination is hard, education of low-skill workers is even harder, and successful coordinated nation-wide launches like this are next to impossible.  This mirrored my experience with other companies.  There are always bits and pieces of projects that do not make their way down the chain to the workers that are face-to-face with customers, so having a boots-on-the-ground perspective is vital.

Overall, a company can leverage uTest services to add layers of testing to their launch activities over and above internal testing.  Specific and targeted verification is where they are the strongest.  They can provide feedback on as to whether an uneducated but motivated customer can make it through the new process right now.  Specific errors and third-party verification can be  farmed out for feedback through such a relationship: things the company wants to do but can’t do efficiently given a small staff or tight timelines.  This can provide a company with an enhanced view of the product and help challenge their assumptions before their customers do.

Note: edited to be a little more coy about who I was testing for and what I was testing.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Failing Faster, Succeeding...Soon?

I listened to a good podcast about having and executing on ideas.  Here was the gist of it:

  1. Have an Idea: Gather info directly from customers.  Implement now or Punt for later
  2. Once implemented, get a Minimum Viable Product to a Website, county fair, etc.  Fulfillment can be slow at first.  Persevere and refine or Punt
  3. Once it is selling, enter a Customer Validation Loop and handle their concerns first.  New ideas?  Start at top.  
  4. Once major customer concerns are addressed, enter a Product Design Loop: Change design or manufacturing as needed.

The core of the idea is to fail faster in the hopes that you succeed sooner.  Your backlog of unvalidated ideas are there to experiment on and validate.  Then you Implement, Persevere, Resolve and Redesign or Punt and wait until you've churned through your good ideas.

Another formulation of this is the 2-2-2-2-2 method.  When you are trying to determine if an idea is feasible, first spend 2 minutes getting it down on paper.  If it still captures your interest, spend 2 hours fleshing it out.  As it grows, time box your commitment to the project.  See it through or bin it.  By the time you're spending 2 weeks or months on an idea, it should be clear whether it can bear fruit or not.  I cannot find an online version of this idea.  If you can place it, let me know in the comments.

While this applies to product development, it can also apply to hobbies, chores and other activities.  Have an idea for homemade Christmas presents?  Try it out on a small batch before you become consumed with a monster of a project with no practical timeline for delivery. Have a request from a friend to help you with a project?  Spend a few minutes talking logistics.  If you get down to a trip to the hardware store, make sure you can finish that phase with results in an afternoon.  Re-evaluate before committing to future efforts: is the benefit still worth your collective time?

Monday, August 17, 2015

Magnetic Bottle Openers

In the tradition of doing something snazzy for the DEF CON Toxic BBQ, I created a bottle opener that would both mount magnetically as well as catch bottle caps with the same force. 

Amazon had a selection of sturdy bottle openers by Starr X, and a particularly helpful blog post by K & J Magnetics helped me pick out the featured magnet.  I'm relying on the interesting grain of the Indian Rosewood to give the piece character as I didn't have the tools to do a fancy profile, and my router bits are incredibly lacking, so I just went with dog-eared corners and a chamfered edge.  The burning visible on the below pre-finishing shot (accompanied by my favorite Wasatch brew) was due to the bit I used.

The magnet was epoxied in place after I cleared out a spot for it.  In order to prevent the opener from sliding on slick surfaces, I added slightly inset tiny rubber feet.  This also set the opener off from the fridge by just enough that you can get your fingers behind it to pry it off with ease. Lots of sanding from 100 to 600 grit made a great smooth base for some stain and spar urethane.  After three days of curing time, I plopped it on the post at the Toxic BBQ and had a pile of at least 50 caps by the time the night was through.  A great first run!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Responding to Vulnerabilities and Weaknesses in your Product: A Tester's Perspective

Compare and Contrast: Tesla's response to researchers: 

With Oracle's: 

To be fair, no company should have to sift through an automated report from a static analysis tool.  It’s not worth their time.  In fact, the tone of the Oracle Blog that isn’t completely unproductive is, “Do the research for yourself!  Give me exploits or give me death!”  As a Tester, this is the core of bug advocacy, and I want to destroy the trust lazy researchers put in automated scanners, lazy managers put into automated checking, and the lack of human interaction endemic in development in general.

That being said, chiding someone for spending their own coin to find a exploit with, “But you really shouldn’t have broken the EULA.  Nanny Nanny Boo Boo,” is unproductive at best and an invitation to become the target of malicious actors at worst.  No one cares about your EULA.  Not even the government gives it the time of day.  Your tantrum just makes that many more people want to do things to piss you off.