April 27, 2008

Perhaps They Should Have Tested More - Dilbert

An industry heavyweight releases a new version of their system.  It provides a bunch of new features, but with a dramatically different user interface, that seems to confuse most users.  The new release is much slower than the old release, and it seemingly drops support for some user platforms.  The vendor immediately promises to patch the release, but has already alienated some of the user base.

Microsoft?  No, it's Dilbert!

Recently, Scott Adams and the Dilbert team redesigned the Dilbert.com site.  And while it's been called a Beta version, the old Production version of the site doesn't appear to be running any longer.  I know it's stretching the point, but this would be like Microsoft releasing a Beta version of Vista (and assuring users to "Please be patient"), while simultaneously causing XP to disappear from everyone's desktop.

Here's the hype:
Welcome to the almost-too-incredible-to-believe BETA version of the new Dilbert web site! We spent most of the past year, and a small fortune, to unwrap all the pent up Dilbert goodness and provide it to you for free, embracing the new realities of intellectual property on the web.

The site is still in BETA. You're getting a preview of future wonders. Please be patient. This is a generation beyond any comic web site, and it gets bumpy when you pass beyond the rim. Take a sneak peek at these new features:

PUNCH LINES: Write your own punch lines for Dilbert strips - just type them right into the panel - and e-mail them to friends!

Soon you will be able to write the entire strip, collaborating with others, in what we call Group Mash! (One person writes the first panel, another writes the second, and so on.) Readers can vote the best ones to the top of the heap. That way you get the attention and credit you need to make life worth living.

Starting today, mocking the idiots in your workplace is a competitive sport! This is going to be fun. I'll participate in the Punch Lines and Group Mashes too. Look for my contributions under username ScottAdams.

ANIMATION: We've animated Dilbert online. Several strips are already done and we plan to add one per day. You have to hear the new voice for Dogbert.

FAVORITE LISTS: Create lists of your favorite Dilbert comics and share with others.

ARCHIVE EXPANDED: Now the free Dilbert archive extends back to 2001. We're working on putting the entire archive online.

COLOR: All online strips are in living color. They look sensational.

SEARCH: Filter the archive by favorite characters. For example, find all the comics in the archive featuring Dogbert or Catbert or Asok, etc., plus any combination of characters.

DILBERT BLOG: My personal blog is moving to this page. And you'll be able to vote on comments, so the wisest and funniest float to the top.
And here's a sampling of the reactions:
"The new animation feayture is unneeded, unwanted, and unloved."

"I'm not sure if the new website is a parody on Microsoft and their ilk, or simply following in their best traditions.

You release the thing, it is full of bugs and works badly so you promise to fix it in a while. Could be the latest version of the Dilbert web site or the latest version of Windows. I look forward to the day when everything else, cars, toasters, books etc, is produced this way."

"Did Scott Adams contract site design out to Dilbert's company?"

"Please tell us that this blog entry was written for you by the Marketing department, and that you yourself are just as shocked and appalled at this unusable mess as the rest of us are."

"I'm sure you all spent a lot of time on it so I don't think you will change back anytime soon but really, this is another case of "you tried to fix something that isn't broke". Very Dilbert."

"Your developers and deployment staff seem to have totally thrown this out. This _isn't_ a beta, this is a live deployment, and as such the 'Beta' image should be removed. It's not cool. Neither is the new format - it is offensive to the eye, difficult to navigate, and has suffered an ill-thought-out roll-out."

"I've worked in IT for 25 years now, and Dilbert has kept me sane throughout that time, but I never thought that Dilbert's own web site would become like one of it's own jokes."

"I'm disappointed to find that the animations are Windows/Mac only. I was looking forward to watching them, only to be told that my Linux isn't supported. Please change this so you don't loose your Linux-using audience."

"It's big, it's bloated, and I don't like it at all. I'm hoping against hope that it's some PHB-inspired, time-delayed April Fools joke of some sort that is some artistic attempt at satire and irony."

"Sorry but the new site is hideous. It takes forever to load, is infested with Flash and generally looks vile."
Then comes an "apology" of sorts from Scott Adams, while hinting that maybe this bloated Beta wasn't such a bad thing:
Our web site upgrade (BETA) reminds me of a local restaurant in my area. The owner painted the storefront a hideous purple, the sort of color that is an insult to all buildings. He did it without city approval, and it got the residents up in arms. Everyone was talking about the restaurant with the awful color. A month later, the owner repainted with an inoffensive color and everyone was happy. In the meantime, the controversy made this restaurant universally known in the area. I drove past it the other day and it was packed. Damn, I wish I had thought of that idea with my own restaurant.

We weren't nearly that clever with our web site redesign, but something like the purple restaurant happened by accident. The majority of people who left a comment had bitter (and totally valid) complaints. We used way too much Flash, the servers slowed to a crawl, the navigation of strips was klunky, and so on. We plan to fix all of that in the next week or two. The developers won't be getting much sleep. We've already made the site much quicker.

Meanwhile, traffic on Dilbert.com doubled. And the new features, particular the Mash Ups and the archive search functions are a big hit. People either loved that the strips are now in color or hated it, but everyone had a strong opinion. That's what I love about Dilbert readers. It makes my job a lot more interesting.

Linux users were the most vocal in their complaints. (Who saw that coming?) Your numbers are small but your power is mighty. Just for you, we're working on a bare bones page with only the strips, text navigation, and not much else. Look for that in a week or so. You'll be able to jump from there to the main page if you want to experience the new features like regular folk.

In the meantime, you can always use the new (legal) Dilbert RSS feed. It's just the strips, the way you like it. Click here: http://feeds.feedburner.com/DilbertDailyStrip

We appreciate all the comments. We're looking at them carefully and making changes. Some will say we shouldn't have inflicted this messy Beta version on the public. There's merit to that argument, but if I was worried about embarrassing myself in front of millions of people, I would need a new job.

Thanks for working with me through this upgrade. I apologize for the messy start.
And then another "apology" is written, while throwing a bone to the Linux audience:
Recently we redesigned the Dilbert.com web site and added a ton of features, such as animation, deeper archives, mash ups, and more. The reaction from readers has been fascinating.

Let me get this out of the way: I realize the Beta version of the web site has lots of issues. It’s overloaded with Flash, slower than it needs to be, and the navigation is confusing. We’re fixing most of that over the next few weeks. I apologize for the inconvenience.

The fascinating thing about the responses is that it revealed three distinct types of Dilbert readers:

The first group is the ultra-techies who have an almost romantic relationship with technology. For them, the new site felt like getting dumped by a lover. Their high-end technology (generally Linux) and security settings made much of the site inconvenient. Moreover, the use of Flash offended them on some deep emotional level.

The second group objected to the new level of color and complexity, and the associated slowness. They like their Dilbert comics simple, fast, and in two colors. Anything more is like putting pants on a cat.

The third group uses technology as nothing more than a tool, and subscribes to the philosophy that more free stuff is better than less free stuff. That group has embraced the new features on the site and spiked the traffic stats.

For you first two groups, if you promise to keep it to yourselves, we created a stripped-down Dilbert page with just the comic, some text navigation, and the archive: www.dilbert.com/fast. This alternate site is a minor secret, mentioned only here and in the text footnote to the regular site as “Linux/Unix.”

The main site will be getting a Flash diet that will make it speedier soon, so check back in a few weeks. That’s where all the fun will be.
As an aside, I used HttpWatch to take a look at the "Beta/Production" site at dilbert.com as compared to the "/Fast" site at dilbert.com/fast.

The Beta/Production site:
  • took just under 14 seconds to load
  • downloaded about 700k
  • required 63 network round trips
The Fast site:
  • took just over 4 seconds to load
  • downloaded about 220k
  • required 12 network round trips
Perhaps a little usability and performance testing would have been in order before releasing the new Beta/Production version?

April 26, 2008

Book: How Long Is A Piece Of String? More hidden mathematics of everyday life

Rob Eastaway & Jeremy Wyndham

"How Long Is A Piece Of String?" is a book about the mathematics that underlies everyday life.  Written by the authors of "Why Do Buses Come In Threes?", it's a quick, interesting read.

Here are the contents:
Chapter 1 - Why Does Monday Come Round So Quickly? 
Chapter 2 - How Do Conmen Get Rich? 
Chapter 3 - What Makes a Hit Single? 
Chapter 4 - Why Won't the Case Fit in the Boot? 
Chapter 5 - Should I Phone a Friend? 
Chapter 6 - Is It Quicker to Take the Stairs? 
Chapter 7 - How Long Is a Piece of String? 
Chapter 8 - Why Do Weather Forecasters Get it Wrong? 
Chapter 9 - Will I Catch Flu Next Winter? 
Chapter 10 - Am I Being Taken for a Ride? 
Chapter 11 - Will I Ever Meet the Perfect Partner? 
Chapter 12 - Is It a Fake? 
Chapter 13 - Will the Underdog Win? 
Chapter 14 - Why Do Karaoke Singers Sound So Bad? 
Chapter 15 - How Can I Be Sure? 
Chapter 16 - Can I Trust What I read in the Papers?

In chapter 12 - "Is It A Fake?  Number tests that can detect the fraudsters" - the authors provide this nugget of information:

Everyone knows that typographical errors (called typos by those in the trade) are sometimes difficult to spot, so a printer might ask two proofreaders to read through independently to look for errors.
Suppose the first reader finds E1 errors and the second finds a different number, E2.  They now compare their results, and discover that some of the errors, a number S, were the same ones.  How many errors might they expect there to be in total? 
There is a way of making a good estimate, known as the Lincoln Index.  This says that the total number of errors in the manuscript will be roughly:
Expected Errors = (E1 * E2) / S
For example, suppose the first reader found fifteen errors and the second twelve, and that ten of the errors were found by both.  The Linoln Index predicts (15 x 12) / 10 = 18 errors in total.  Of these only seventeen have been found so far - ten found by both readers plus five more that only the first reader found and two more than the second found.
It occurs to me that this could be an interesting experiment in bug estimation.

Have two testers spend some time trying to find all the bugs in a piece of code, keeping the list of bugs found hidden from each other.  Then use the Lincoln Index formula to estimate how many have yet to be found.

I'll have to look for an opportunity to try this and see how well it works in the real world.

April 17, 2008

WinTask - A Better Way To Use Data Items From A Text File

When creating a WinTask script, I often want to put my data items in a text file external to my script.  That way, I don't have to modify the script to use a different set of test data.

Initially, I would read each data item from the file as I needed it

But, with larger sets of data items, this seemed slow.

So now, I read the entire set of data items into an array, then use the array elements as I need them.  This is much faster.

Another benefit is that I can now use the array of items in any order I choose.  Often I want to randomly pick one of the items and use it.

' Check performance difference between two methods of using data in a txt file
' Author: Joe Strazzere
Dim Items$(10000)   ' An array to hold the data items
file$="C: est.txt"   ' The file containing the data items

' This method simply reads an item from the data file when it is needed
Comment("Method 1 - Using each file item in turn")
' Comment(Var$)
Until eof(file$)=1
MsgBox("This method took "+t$+"/100 seconds to process "+i$+" items")

' This methods first reads all the data items from the file into an array
' Then, as each data item is needed, the corresponding array element is used
' Not only is this method faster, but it has the added advantage of being
' able to use the items in any order desired - even randomly
Comment("Method 2 - Using an array and SplitIntoArray")
Until eof(file$)=1
' Comment(Var$)
Until i > ItemCount
MsgBox("This method took "+t$+"/100 seconds to process "+i$+" items")

April 13, 2008

Deciphering Job Descriptions

If you are looking for a job, it can often be difficult to understand what the heck they mean by some of the terms used in a Job Description.

From http://fun.varadinum.com/what-job-ads-really-mean.html, here's one take on what they say, and what they mean.

“Competitive Salary”
We remain competitive by paying you less than our competition.
“Join our fast-paced company”
We have no time to train you.
“Casual work atmosphere”
We don’t pay enough to expect that you will dress up; a couple of the real daring guys wear earrings.
“Some overtime required”
Some every night and some every weekend.
“Duties will vary”
Anyone in the office can boss you around.
“Must have an eye for detail”
We have no quality assurance.
Female applicants must be childless (and remain that way).
“Apply in person”
If you’re old, fat or ugly you’ll be told that the position has been filled.
“Seeking candidates with a wide variety of experience”
You’ll need it to replace the three people who just quit.
“Problem-solving skills a must”
You’re walking into perpetual chaos.
“Requires team leadership skills”
You’ll have the responsibilities of a manager, without the pay or respect.
“Good communication skills”
Management communicates, you listen, figure out what they want and do it.