Category Archives: Quality

That would never happen in real life

Earthrise by William Andres, Apollo 8 Astronaut.

Earthrise by William Andres, Apollo 8 Astronaut.

Houston, we have a problem.  This line was made famous by Tom Hanks portraying Jim Lovell in Apollo 13.  But, this was not the first time that Jim Lovell reported an inflight problem to Houston.

Before Apollo 13, Jim Lovell was the Command Module Pilot for Apollo 8, the mission flew around the moon for the first time in December 1968.  On the way back from the moon, the guidance computer suddenly reset itself to a location on the launch pad.  His call to Houston was less dramatic, “For some reason, we suddenly got a Program 01 and no attitude light on our computer.”

He meant to initiate star alignment with star 01, but accidentally entered the command P01, which reset the position back to the mission origin.  P01 was never intended to be used while in flight.  No harm came from this error, the transcripts show that the procedure to correct it came 10 minutes later in the mission.  Good thing they were on day 5 of the 6-day mission.

Margaret Hamilton with Apollo 11 source code

Margaret Hamilton with Apollo 11 source code

What is interesting to me, this issue was not a new one.  Margaret Hamilton actually found it during a testing session on a Saturday when she brought her daughter, Lauren, into work.  Lauren was playing with the computer simulator and entered that same command. Margaret raised the issue but the change board declined to authorize a fix because the astronauts are very well trained and would not make that same mistake.

How many times has this happened in bug reviews?

PS: Margaret fixed the issue before Apollo 11.

Want to try it yourself? You can geek out with a simulator of the guidance computer.

Buggy Software Report – WordPress Gutenberg

One question that I always ask about bugs is the impact on our users.  What would be the frustration level for those bugs?  It’s one thing to find a bug and think what it means to our customers, it’s another thing to be that customer and experience the frustration.

This morning, I was the frustrated one.

I wrote an article for my other site, the Software Leadership Academy. I drafted the article in Word, then opened up the editor in WordPress.  It was a different editor than the last time I wrote an article, but on the surface it looked more modern.  I experienced several bugs while working with that article, and guess what?  The article didn’t save, so I lost about 45 minutes of work.   I’ll list the bugs experienced later in this article.

I took another 30 minutes or so to diagnose what happened and how to fix it.  I looked all over the WordPress installation for any hints, and disabled several plug-ins that looked related to composing posts.  No luck.  Searching the web eventually led me to learn that the new editor (called Gutenberg) was from WordPress and is the default editor in the 5.0 release.  I have that site set for auto-update, and I received the update in the past couple of days.

To compound the frustration, there wasn’t a way to disable the new editor. I found a plug-in that does allow me to choose between the classic editor and Gutenberg.  My frustration is compounded by the fact that I had no warning this was coming, it was a seriously buggy experience, and there was no easy way to revert the change.  (I don’t count searching for, installing, and operating a plug-in to be easy).

As promised, here the the bugs that I experienced, in rough order of observation:

  • Importing from a word document suppressed the space character between words that are separated by newline.
  • Unclear ability to insert an image “inline” with my text, so text wraps around the image (i.e. left-justified image with text to the right)
  • Preview didn’t work, it just opened a new tab and gave a “working” spinner for 5+ minutes.
  • There was no “save” button, but the UI told me every few seconds that it was saving.  I believed it, but in the end, the article was not saved.
  • No clear publish button.  I saw a schedule for the article to be published, in 2 days, but no way to publish now.  Also, I changed the time to 2 minutes in the future and waited – it did not publish.

Anyway, this article is less about me complaining about WordPress and more about sharing the experience of losing work and being frustrated as a user. We should all consider our bugs from the user’s perspective.

The Software Leadership training course contains a module called Customer-Driven Quality, which helps teams build empathy for their customers and use that empathy to build better software.