Debi’Z Blog has moved !!

Dear Subscribers,

We have moved our blog over to our website, and it now includes lots of really useful and practical SEO tips and explanations.

We invite you to resubscribe at www.debi-z.com/blog.

(You can dump the old blog subscription while you’re about it!).

Looking forward to seeing you all at our new and updated blog.

Best regards

Debi, and the staff at Debi’Z SEO Consulting.

SIGiST Israel evening conference: Free and OpenSource Testing Tools

Last week, I attended the latest SIGiST Israel evening conference. SIGiST Israel is the Special Interest Group in Software Testing, Israel, and they hold evening events about 3 times a year, a 4-day testing conference once a year, and other test related activities every now and again.

The subject of last week’s conference was “Free and OpenSource Testing Tools“, and there were 3 presentations, together with great food, and a lot of networking.

The evening was kicked off, as usual, by the very competent Alon Linetzki, the founder of SIGiST Israel, who introduced the 3 speakers, and updated the audience with details of the 2009 summer conference, which will be held from the 29th June to 2nd July, focusing on “Adding Business Value and Increasing ROI“.

There will be 2 days of workshops followed by 2 days of track sessions. Some of the workshops and talks will include TPI, Agile Testing and Performance testing, and among the speakers will be international names, such as Andy Redwood and Mieke Gevers.

Dudu Bassa, of Sela, one of the SIGiST’s biggest supporters, made a few announcements relating to test engineers and test managers (if you are one, looking for a job, or your organization needs one, you can contact him).

Dudu also announced that Yaron Tsubery yaron tsubery, the ITCB President, is running for Presidency of the ISTQB, and has a good chance to be elected. If he is elected, it will be a great success for Yaron himself (of course), but also a vote of confidence for the whole testing profession in Israel.

Yaron – we wish you the best of luck !!

OK, so back to last week. 

SNAP, by SAP

The first lecture was given by Asaf Saar, QA Manager at SAP, and initiator of the SAP Netweaver Automation Platform (aka SNAP). Asaf described the complexities that his team has to deal with:

  • multi-site development and integration, including tests developed in many countries
  • many technologies and frameworks, including frameworks for black box and white box testing, developed in house – each office having developed its own … 
  • different testing techniques – manual, automation, unit testing, and API testing.
  • more than 10,000 UI automation scripts, and more than 100,000 Java unit tests (we should all be so lucky!) 
  • too many solutions, that can’t be synchronized
  • lack of usability
  • need to manage the Life Cycle  – run it all, get reports, analyse the reports, and currently each type of report sits somewhere else: XML, database, access, automation report, etc.
  • all tests needed to be in the SAP test repository, 20 years old, with millions of tests from the whole world, and no API …

In short – unmanageable!

And from the unmanageable grew the idea of SNAP, which was developed by just 2 test engineers and a student over a 10-month period, in parallel to their regular work!

How did they do it?

SNAP was developed based on Visual WebGui, an open source RIA (rich internet application) development & deployment platform, atop standard .NET. Visual WebGui, from a small Israeli startup in Kfar Saba –  Gizmox - enables development & deployment of applications on the server which are then virtualized on a standard browser with no specific installation.

The development was done in C#, compiled, and out came an Ajax web application!

SNAP itself enables integration of any testing framework via API/Web services (test drivers), and is used by developers, test engineers, and integration engineers. The actual tests are run on temporarily idle PCs across the globe, from a central entry point, thus maximizing resource utilization (all QTP and other automation PCs can be configured public and used for testing).

Even though it was originally developed for the test group, the developers now run the automation tests before submitting the s/w to the test engineers. 

SNAP was presented at the SAP world conference last year, and it caused a lot of buzz, in particular raising the motivation and the positioning of the QA engineers in the organization.

Asaf, together with Guy Peled of Gizmox , also presented “Web on the Server”:  at AjaxWorld 2008 East. 

Asaf mentioned that they had fantastic cooperation with HP/Mercury (it doesn’t do any harm if your “daddy” is SAP!) – which helped them get as many licenses as they needed.

You can see a detailed description and screenshots from the Gizmox site by clicking on the screenshots below.

sap1snap_3

Altogether are very interesting and educational presentation.

AutoIT – A Free Functional Automation Tool

The next presentation was given by Meir Bar-Tal, of SOLMAR Knowledge Networks. Meir gave an in-depth talk and demo of AutoIT v3, a freeware BASIC-like scripting language designed for automating the Windows GUI and general scripting. It uses a combination of simulated keystrokes, mouse movement and window/control manipulation in order to automate tasks in a way not possible or reliable with other languages (e.g. VBScript and SendKeys). AutoIt is also very small, self-contained and will run on all versions of Windows (including Vista) out-of-the-box with no annoying “runtimes” required! 

The evolution of AutoIt

  • Initially designd for PC “roll out” situations to reliably automate and configure 1000’s of PCs
  • Now – used as a general purpose scripting language
  • Now – supports complex expressions, user functions, loops etc.

The main features of AutoIt

  • Easy to learn, Basic-like syntax
  • Simulate keystrokes and mouse movements
  • Manipulate windows and processes
  • Interacts with all standard widow controls
  • Scripts can be compiles into standalone execs
  • Create GUIs
  • COM support
  • Regular expressions
  • Directly call external DLL and Windows API functions
  • Scriptable RunAs functions
  • Detailed Help file with examples, and large community-based support forums
  • Unicode and x64 support
  • Digitally signed for peace of mind
  • Works with Windows Vista’s User Account Control (UAC)

Below are a couple of AutoIT screenshots, so you can get an idea what it looks like.

AutoIT gui_eg1
AutoIT gui_eg2AutoIt also has a community, run by Jonathan Bennett (just a kid – born in 1973) – author and copyright owner, an open community of contributors who are highly prolific and very dedicated. They release a new version every now and again – latest one was on the 24th December 2008. AutoIT has more than 26K forum users worldwide, who are very busy and active, and 2 books have been written about AutoIT.

In conclusion, AutoIT is a cost-effective solution for Web, .NET and Standard windows applications, it is limited to main windows technologies, and is best used with a proven testing automation methodology and framework. AutoIT enables maximizing ROI on automation by effective use of enterprise resources (parallel execution).

And interestingly enough, one of the other attendees at the evening said that he had heard of AutoIT a couple of years ago, but didn’t think it was much use for him and his team. After hearing Meir’s talk, he’s going to have another look.  

AllPairs and PICT – Free tools for test design optimization

Last but by no means least, the third talk was given by Michael Stahl, Senior SW Test Engineer at Intel (although Michael was careful to say that the talk actually has nothing to do with his work at Intel), and member of the ITCB Executive Board.

Michael started off by showing us the following video about the ESP (electronic stability przogram) in a car, which “Enhances driver control andhelps maintain direcctional stabiloity under all conditions. Provides the greatest benefit during critical driving situations, such as when driving on mixed surface conditions such as snow, ice or gravel.”:

[sorry all, I can't get the stupid video to embed here, so you'll have to click on the link below to see it]

Exotic-cars.info20.com – ESP – Electronic Stability Program

He then went on to list just a few of the different criteria that need to be considered in order to test an ESP system:

  •  Car Weight
    • Net weight, maximum load, overweight
    • Location of the weight: front seat, back seat, trunk, roof
  • Tires
    • Type, width, size
    • Condition – worn or new
    • Air pressure – nominal, too much, too little
  • Driving conditions
    • Surface – asphalt, concrete, losse gravel, ice, snow, wet, flooded, wet + leaves, oil, sand, etc.!
    • Incline – up, down, flat
    • Contour – left turn, right turn, straight
    • Speed – slow, fast
    • Wind – from left, right, front, back
  • Actions
    • Quiescent, brake, accelerate, down-shift, up-shift

Just combining these criteria, we get to the impossible number of 1,140,480 different test cases !! And that’s just for one car model….

This problem is known as a Combinatorical Explosion. which leads to a “Test Explosion” – more tests than you can ever (want to) run. The problem is very common in software, where you have many configuration parameters, external events, user inputs, environmental parameters, etc.

Ah… I can hear your brains clicking over. You are thinking (as Michael indeed mentioned) “my application doesn’t have this problem”. Either:

  • the parameters are orthoganol (i.e. don’t affect each other), we can test each one on its own
  • the combinations can be covered while testing other things (but that actually makes it more complex)
  • we have enough planned iterations to cover all the combinations (can you be sure that you will be able to control combinations per iteration?)

Uh-uh. Nothing is quite so simple – you need to evaluate the risk of  using any of these strategies.

The other strategy is based on a theory by Tatsumi, and Cohen et al, which states that (bad) interaction between variables is usually between two variables, and that bugs involving interactions between three or more parameters are progressively less common. Therefore, we need to test all of the “all-pair” interactions, and add a few selected tests for specific cases.

Michael then moved on to demo two free tools:

  1. Allpairs  (developed by James Bach)
  2. PICT – Pairwise Independent Combinatorial Testing  (from Microsoft)

He used as an example, a “Generic Installer” with 9 different on/off configuration options, i.e. 512 test cases (2 to the power of 9).

First he demo’d All-Pairs, which gave an answer that just 8 test cases were needed to test all the pairs (instead of 512, remember?)

Next he demo’d PICT, which gave an answer of 9 test cases (also miles better than 512).

Well, this was where All-Pairs stops. It’s a great little free tool, but even James Bach agrees that it has its limitations, the main ones being that there is no logic, and it works only with pairs.

PICT on the other hand, is a bit more complicated, but much more powerful. And it’s also free :-)   Pict has a pile of options, that help you do any of the following:

  • combination order control
  • randomization
  • constraints ,e.g. if parameter x is “off”, then set parameter y to be “off”
  • sub-models: bundle certain parameters into groups, e.g. if there are some cases you always want to test
  • aliasing: when certain parameter(s) are “don’t care”, i.e. they can take a few values. It doesn’t matter which you use, but it would be nice to test all of them
  • weighting: bias the “don’t care” value distribution to test more important values more than others, e.g. test Vista more than XP
  • negative tests
  • seeding

and it has a very good help file, so go look if there’s anything here that isn’t clear :-)

In addition, PICT can work with more than 2 parameters. As a real-live example, Michael showed a case in which there were 6 parameters, with between 2 and 22 values per parameter:

A: 2 values, B: 5 values, C: 6, D:7, E:8 and F:22. 

The number of tests ended up being:  2 x 5 x 6 x 7 x 8 x 22 = 73,920.

In the PICT file, 1 constraint was defined, and 56 “if-then-else” equations. All pairs were checked.

The final result (i.e. number of test cases needed, instead of 73,920)???  90. That’s right, NINETY. That’s it!

OK, so this sounds to good to be true. Where’s the catch?  Well, no catch, but some risks:

  • N-pairs is just another tool in your toolbox
    • It’s not guaranteed to find all the bugs
  • The test quality is dependant on the input values you chose
    • Was your Equivalence Class correct>
    • Did you select the “right” representative values?
  • If the output is influenced by more than 2 variables, you need a higher level than all-pairs to catch the bugs
  • Blind selection of paris will miss the “interesting” or often-used combinations.
  • Bach and Shroeder both say: “We believe that this technique is over promoted and poorly understood”

And not to be forgotten, in fact about ALL your tools: ” Don’t fall in love with your tool – it’s not a Silver Bullet. Apply your tester’s instiscts, and analyze the situation”.

I hope you all enjoyed this summary, and can take away something to start doing tomorrow. It would be great if you would add a comment to this post as to what testing improvement using tools YOU are going to start implementing.

And don’t forget, mark the 29th June-2nd July in your calendars, because yours truly (yes, that’s ME) will also be at SIGiST Israel 2009, giving a talk on “Test Engineers – Adding Value in Tough Economic Times“.

Until then, see you at my next post  (if you sign up for my RSS feed, of course!)

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In The Spirit of The Times

This was just too good …

bank-card-check

See you next time (if you sign up for my RSS feed, of course!)

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You’re a Geek, and you just got fired – now what?

Jacob Share from JobMob just twhirled  about Rafe Needman’s “The spreadsheet of sunshine: who’s hiring in the US“. I was just about to go to bed, but I was intrigued, and as you can see, I didn’t get there yet …

It really is a ray of sunshine in the gloom and doom of thousands of layoffs across so many sectors.

However, if you read on all the way to the bottom, then you get to this really cool post about 14 things to do if you are laid off from a tech job

The shortlist is below, but go and read the whole post, for the full explanations of what these things really mean, and why they are good to do (although some of them will need translating for wherever you happen to live).

  1. Get involved in an open-source project
  2. Go to start-up fairs
  3. Get project work
  4. Update your profiles
  5. Learn some new skills
  6. Answer some questions
  7. Get a girlfriend or boyfriend
  8. Campaign in a swing state
  9. Take some time off
  10. Move out of the Bay Area
  11. Buy a new rig
  12. Take pictures
  13. Volunteer
  14. Start your own company

I haven’t got anything else to add, except to hope that none of you really needs this list.

But if you think you might – get started now, before the guillotine drops. And in any case, do pass it on to any of your friends and family who may be in need.

If you have any other ideas to add to the 14 above, please stick them in a comment here for all my readers to see. Thanks.

It’s a short one this time. You deserve it, after all my long-winded posts (and I deserve to see my bed before 2am for a change)!    See you next time (if you sign up for my RSS feed, of course!)

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Invitation to Beta Test Web 3.0 Firefox Add-on “Headup”

So you aren’t quite sure yet what Web 2.0 is all about? 

Well, hang onto your hat, as Web 3.0 is slowly galloping to meet us.

This is long, but worth reading (even if I say so myself!), and the Invitation is right at the end – OK?

A bit of history

Web 3.0, a phrase coined by John Markoff of the New York Times in 2006, refers to a third generation of Internet-based services that collectively comprise what might be called ‘the intelligent Web’, and the end of 2006 was the first time that Web 3.0 was  associated with the Semantic Web

Now what the heck is the Semantic Web? It is “an evolving extention of the Internet in which the semantics of information and services on the web is defined, making it possible for the web to understand and satisfy the requests of people and machines to use the web content”. 

It derives from the 3WC director Sir Tim Berners-Lees vision of the Web as a universal medium for data, information and knowledge exchange.

Did I lose you yet?

How about an example (from Markoff, no less)? 

the Holy Grail for developers of the semantic Web is to build a system that can give a reasonable and complete response to a simple question like: ‘I’m looking for a warm place to vacation and I have a budget of $3,000. Oh, and I have an 11-year-old child.

Under today’s system, such a query can lead to hours of sifting — through lists of flights, hotel, car rentals — and the options are often at odds with one another.

Under Web 3.0, the same search would ideally call up a complete vacation package that was planned as meticulously as if it had been assembled by a human travel agent.

The day after Markoff’s article was published, it was torn to pieces by Thomas Claburn in The InformationWeek.

That was in 2006.

Where is the Semantic Web in 2009?

Last night I braved the Jerusalem cold (and a horrible head-cold), and armed with a large packet of tissues I attended the Jerusalem Web Professionals (JWP) monthly meeting, entitled “Web 3.0 and the Semantic Web: What You Need to Know“.

The presenters were Eitan Burcat and Mike Darnell, together with Eran Lahav, from SemantiNet, an Israeli start-up who have developed a Web 3.0 Firefox add-on (so far that’s all they support, but are working on support for other platforms) they call “headup+ your web, connected

headup the Semantic Web Firefox addon

Their tagline is: “FIND without searching, BOOST your browser, CONNECT your web

Eitan did the presenting, Mike did the demo (see below), and all three answered loads of questions.

The presentation started off with a few slides on the history of Web 3.0, an explanation of the terminology involved, and his example, which is probably more useful in today’s day and age than the dreams of Sir Tim. 

I arrive in a new city, and I’m looking for a place to stay, somewhere to eat, and something fun to do. On my facebook profile, I wrote that I like Madonna, on some other social networking site I mentioned that my mother cooks great Italian food, and I’m registered at a dating site where I’ve tagged my lifestyle. My handheld GPS knows where I am, and can tell me which hotels suiting my lifestyle are in the area, where the best (i.e. with the most recommendations on a local restaurant website) Italian restaurant is nearby, and that there’s a Madonna concert the day after I arrive.

Today I need to go onto the web and look, instead of some cool technology (aka Headup!) offering it to me. 

Headup only uses information freely available on the web, and keeps away from any password-protected stuff and privacy issues. Eitan explained that the connections between the pieces of information are made in realtime, on your PC client. He explained how Headup is different from Google Universal Search (basically, headup goes into social media sites, and all sorts of other places, to find semantically related information).

What was particularly cool about the presentation was that they actually have a working addon, that you can download and add to your FireFox (rather difficult not to see this

on their home page !!!), and about half the presentation was a demo of the thing working.

There were loads of questions from the audience, like:

  • How do you deal with spam?
  • What about adult content?
  • How are going to make money?
  • How many users do you have? (Answer: “more than a few and less than many” !!)
  • What’s the connection with LSI (latent semantic indexing)?
  • Why did you just do an add-on?
  • Who has funded you up to now? (Sir Arnold Cohen, Jeff Pulver, Giza, and others I didn’t catch)
  • What about Hebrew support? (Answer: it’s already there – have a look at the cool example at the end of this post)

and others, which I’ll leave to the headup blog to answer (unless they beg me to write up all my notes!)

The most interesting question, of course, was “how does web 3.0 and the semantic web affect SEO?

Excellent question – the one we all want answered. But there aren’t too many answers around at the moment. Rather, more questions. Like “how are computers going to be able to understand the possible contexts that a human being understands?”. 

It seems obvious that objects (people, things, stuff) will need to be tagged in many different ways, for example “Pink” – the singer or the colour? Using the W3C standards, microformats and the like, will help. But in reality, no-one really knows ….

So, of course, first thing I did when I went home was to install the little Mr. Man superscript (those are a couple of things that it’s supposed to remind you of ….), and lo and behold, it actually works !!

Here are a couple of screen shots (sorry  about the quality – it’s a wordpress crunching thing).

The first shows that when you “headup” the word עזה  (“Azza” – the Hebrew name for Gaza), it even shows you English news items with the word “Gaza” – very impressive. 

headup-hebeng

In the second screenshot I set it up to include my facebook and other friends, and here you can see (just) that it’s picked up one of my friends, “Miriam”, from FriendFeed.

headup-social

So, that’s Headup.

Now where’s the invitation to Test?

Well, it’s simple. 

Mozilla’s policy is that all new add-ons added to their site are considered experimental until they are reviewed.  The top-of-the-crop, those add-ons found to be ready and appropriate for public display, are made public. Experimental addons can be downloaded for testing and reviewing by users who are registered to Mozilla’s site.

So, the Headup team need YOUR positive reviews and ratings! 

These ratings will factor in the Mozilla team’s decision to approve headup as a “public” add-on.

They are asking you to register for Mozilla’s site, visit the headup page and provide them with a your rating and review.

How about trying headup on this blog post? See how much information you can find on Eitan, Mike and Eran (I specially didn’t link their names to anything …)?

That’s it for now. Thanks for sticking around till the end of this post, and see you next time (if you sign up for my RSS feed, of course!)

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JWP SEO Expert Panel and other adventures

Yesterday was the 1st day of 2009, and I decided that one of my new year resolutions would be to get back to blogging. So, expect a few posts from events in 2008 that I didn’t manage to get to in time.

I wrote that exactly 2 weeks ago, and here I am now, without even have finished writing up that post!!

You might be interested to hear what I’ve been doing in the last couple of months, since I got back from Thailand.

Getting back to real life …

Firstly, I had to catch up on work! There’s no such thing as a free lunch, and every holiday must be paid for in the end, so within a couple of days, I almost forgot that I had been away. 

Then, so as not to really forget a fantastic holiday, I actually downloaded my Thailand pictures – all 5 Giga of them – and organized them into folders. All that’s left is to upload a few of the best to somewhere on the web, and then at least one of my friends will be happy (the one who’s stopped complaining about my not having uploaded the previous year’s Marrakech pictures!).

JWP SEO Expert Panel

In the beginning of December, I was one of the panelists on the Jerusalem Web Professionals (JWP)  Expert SEO Panel (warning – facebook links!).

The JWP was set up about a year and a half ago by Kim Mayrose, who has recently decided that she is ready to step down from organizing the monthly meetings – great work, Kim, and good luck Charlie, on taking it over.

Anyway, back to the panel. It was held at the offices of PresenTense, and was packed to the gills. We had about 65 attendees, and 3 panelists: Charlie Kalech, Shimshon Young, and yours truly).

Each of the panelists had 2 parts to their talk: the first being an in-depth look about a particular approach to SEO, and the second being a set of 5 practical tips and tricks. 

Shimshon started with a talk about “What is SEO”, and his tips and tricks were:

  • Create a favicon.ico
  • Buy domain names for more than 1 year
  • Add lots of pages to your site
  • Create awsome content!
  • The fastest way to #1? Buy the site that is at #1

Charlied spoke about “Optimization for Broad or Narrow Search?”, and his tips and tricks were:

  • SEF URLs
  • Title, Description & Keyword Tags
  • “Word Spamming,” “Keyword Stuffing,” “Keyword Density”
  • SEF Navigation
  • Sitemaps

My talk was about “Page_rank_and_site_link_structure“, and my tips_and_tricks were:

  • Off-site SEO (Link Building)
  • PPC as part of keyword research
  • Firefox add-ons
  • Focus site on customers
  • Google Trends

The presentations can be found on the J-town presentations page.

Other Adventures …

Channuka was an excuse for another short break, this time with the kids and all of my in-laws, who got together for 3 days to celebrate my mother-in-law’s birthday. Apart from the rain, a great time was had by all.

At long last, I’ve been spending time on my website, Debi-Z dot com, which will hopefully go live within a few days (stay tuned for an update on that), and I’ve been teaching a course in Software Testing at the College of Engineering in Jerusalem.

Last but by no means least, I’ve been taking an amazing “Founding and Managing a Start Up” course at ISEMI. The course has been a stepping stone to my seriously analyzing one of the ideas I had about 1.5 years ago for a new business. What is really cool is that with some inputs from the course tutors and other serial entrepreneurs who we have met, I have “passed GO“, although I haven’t yet reached  “collect $200” (anyone out there dying to invest in a really cool start-up?!).

So, that’s it for now, and I REALLY will  try to keep to that resolution, now that I’m back here.

Have a great 2009, everyone.

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And Off to Thailand it is …

For the next 2 weeks, you won’t be hearing anything QA, SEO or Business related from me.

I’m off to Thailand with my hubby (leaving the kids behind – yeah !!) for a fortnight, assuming that there isn’t another strike at Ben Gurion airport as there was last night ….

So, if anyone is interested in reading my Thailand vacation blog, you can find it at http://www.travelblog.org/Asia/Thailand/blog-345368.html

Debi’Z Blog may be hosting a couple of guest posts while I’m away (I can’t really disconnect entirely, can I?), so don’t be surprised if something turns up. And please be polite to my guests :-)

All the best,

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