September 24, 2003

AWTA5 - Open Source Test Tools

This is an early announcement that the fifth Austin Workshop on Test Automation will be held this January. The workshop will focus on open source testing tools, especially tools targetted at system testing, acceptance testing or "testing in the large." The exact date is yet to be determined.

The purpose of this announcement is to generate interest in potential attendees. We are particularly looking to have people who have authored open source test tools or who have significant experience with them. The goal of the workshop will be to review and categorize existing open source tools with an eye for revealing overlaps and gaps in their coverage. Ultimately, our hope is that this information will help direct open source test tool energies productively.

The workshop, as usual, will be facilitated to alternate between engaged presentation and open discussion and critique. This is planned as a three-day event, starting on a Thursday morning and ending early Saturday afternoon. We are looking at dates between January 8 and 25. Previous AWTAs have been two-day events. Based on similar workshops, we believe that the third day may actually allow about twice as much to be accomplished.

Attendance in the workshop will be by invitation based on a letter of introduction (in the past we called these "position papers"). Specifically, we are interested in attendees who can:

  • Demo open source testing tools
  • Provide information about organizing open source efforts
  • Provide comparitive information regarding different tools
  • Describe how these tools are used on development projects
  • Help faciliate the discussion

We plan to give priority to people who have a demonstrated commitment to publishing open source test tools and information about them.

There is no charge to participate in the workshop. However, participants are expected to cover their own travel costs. The workshop will be in Austin, Texas, at a location yet to be determined.

Because of the format, we limit participants to 20 people. However, we are considering also allowing up to 20 additional observers to attend. Observers would be expected to pay a fee, to help cover the costs of the workshop. We haven't yet determined the fee. We would also consider waiving this fee in cases where it would constitute a hardship. In the past, the cost of the workshops have been covered by me, my co-hosts, and some other participants. If sufficient fees were generated, we would probably use them to fund scholarships.

Over the past year, i've given a talk on open source test tools. This has been a very popular talk, and in researching it, i was amazed and how much is currently available. A big reason for my interest is that i have felt it difficult to explain much of what i know about test automation as long as the discussion centered on how to use a tool that is a black box. I think people need to understand how test tools work and what they are made of to use them effectively. This has been very difficult to do with commercial tools.

I have been very pleased to have met several open source test tool authors over the past year, and i am hoping that this workshop provides a useful opportunity for some in-depth discussions.

Would you be interested in attending? As a participant or observer? What is your background? What would you hope to get out of the workshop?

Do you think allowing observers is a good idea? How much would be fair to charge?

Do you have any suggestions for how we could organize the workshop to facilitate open source test tool development?

Do you like the idea of the three-day format? Do you have a preference regarding dates?

We hope to choose a date soon and make a formal call for letters of introduction then.

Posted by bret at 01:11 PM | Comments (0)

More Hardware Failures

The weekend after we tracked down our network problem to a bad router and replaced it, i had a hard drive failure in my laptop. I switched over to my old laptop, and then its hard drive failed the following weekend.

My laptop's hard drive made some funny sounds on Sunday and blue screened, prompting me to make an updated backup of my data files. On Monday it failed and wouldn't boot up. The laptop was still under warrenty: i called IBM and they sent a replacement hard drive. But i was due to travel for some training, so i restored my data to my old old laptop. It took most of a day to update the necessary software on my old machine, and i lost of few demos that would have been nice for the training. But i had full access to all my slide sets and the training went pretty well. When i got back, i backed up my data files again, and then the hard drive on my backup laptop failed. By then my replacement drive had arrived from IBM, so it was time to restore my primary laptop.

Back in May, i wrote about my new backup software. Now it was time to give it the test. I had beefed up my backup system then due to a hard drive scare in my laptop. I got a new 80 GB USB hard drive and Ghost 2003. I stored a complete drive image using Ghost and have also been using the hard drive to store incremental changes to my data.

I lost almost no data: only a few mail records for less than a day for each hard drive failure. Enough that i can't rely on my records to ensure that i received or sent particular emails during the time, but otherwise of no consequence. But my applications and system hadn't been backed up since May. So i have been having to reinstall applications, and re-do other system tweaks. It's been a lot of work, although i think i am doing a better job of installing software the second time around.

One snag was with Norton AntiVirus. I had purchased a subscription renewal since May, but records of that weren't restored. Symantec's knowledge base understood my problem and said that i'd have to contact one of the reps, giving me a form to fill out. After submitting that i was told i'd hear back within three to seven days. That was two weeks ago and i heard nothing. However, i've since learned that if you just uninstall and reinstall it, it resets your subscription start to "today." I also finally found the option that tell's Norton to stop posting dialogs whenever it finds a virus. Those had been getting quite annoying, especially when i was getting 30 copies of SoBig a day.

My backup machine is my ThinkPad 600e. I bought a 20 GB drive to replace the 10 GB drive that had failed. I didn't have a back up image of it, so i tried to use the System Restore CD that it came with. But i couldn't get it to work. That had Windows NT on it anyway. It was fine as a backup system, but it seemed like a good time to install Win 2K on it. That went pretty easy.

One reason why i hadn't been good about keeping current backups for my full disk image, was that it took Ghost 6 hours to create an image on the USB hard drive. The fact that my laptop uses USB 1.1 surely accounts for some of the delay.

So now i have an additional backup system: an ABS Plus. It is another 30 GB laptop hard drive contained in a housing that fits my removeable drive bay (which ordinarily houses my CD drive). The software for the drive automatically does a full system backup whenever it is inserted. Typically an update takes less than 10 minutes. This gives me a portable backup system that i can travel with. In the worst case i can replace my regular laptop hard drive with the backup drive and the system is supposed to be able to boot! I should probably test this to see if it really works.

Posted by bret at 10:53 AM | Comments (0)

September 08, 2003

The Network is the Computer is Broken

I spent the Labor Day weekend futzing with my computers. On Saturday, a neighbor asked me to help with a laptop that was infected with Blaster. I was curious to see what was actually required to remove the virus and secure a machine against reinfection. The laptop was running XP home edition. I found myself unable to do the job at my neighbor's house: I didn't have the patience to download all the require patches via modem. So we came over to my office, to use my DSL connection. Even still, it took me a couple hours to understand what needed to be done and make sure everything was in place. Turning on the firewall was itself way more complicated than it seemed it really should be. I said before that i was surprised that Windows didn't make more use of scripts for administrative tasks. So we are stuck with manual corrective processes for automated intrusions. One college reports that 25% of computers of returning college students are infected. I'd bet this is indicative of home computer usage at large.

By the way, i see a lot of confusion about the different between bugs, viruses, and worms. A bug is a coding error by the author of the program. Bugs are not malicious, but they can often cause a lot of problems. In my experience, regular computer users encounter bugs a lot more than viruses or worms and often wrongly label these viruses. Virus and worms are the result of malicious programming. Someone, somewhere decided they wanted to cause trouble. The difference between a virus and worm is more subtle. A virus must dupe a user before it can be spread. Typically this means tricking them into opening an attachment. Older viruses would attach themselves to files and then wait for you to innocently pass them to others. Newer viruses will now mail the infected files for you. How thoughtful! Worms don't require anyone to be duped. They self-propigate with no need for user intervention. Worms and the newer viruses are designed to take advantage of specific security flaws: these are bugs in the system software. This is why a complete repair entails patching the operating systems.

After i had verified that the infection had been removed from my neighbor's machine and had enabled the firewall, i needed to apply the latest security patches. I had trouble downloading these: it appeared that my DSL internet connection was working well. I've been seeing general degradation of my internet service over the past month, with the rise of Blaster and SoBig, and indeed i'm now getting hundreds of emails generated by SoBig everyday. I told my neighbor we'd have to patch his machine some other time.

I also told him that i thought that organized crime was behind some of the more prominent virus/worm attacks on the internet. I believe that there is money behind these efforts, and that they are taking control of home computers as a way of distributing spam and possibly for extortion related to denial of service attacks. That kid they caught the other day, in my opinion, made a minor variation of the virus as stupid prank. He's as unaware as the rest of us regarding the true source.

I had network problems all weekend. At first, i was concerned that i had somehow infected other machines on my network with Blaster. I'd bought a used computer recently. I'd paid for bare metal, but was surprised to find it had Win2K installed. Now i was concerned that it might have had an infection: I wiped it out as i'd originally planned, overwriting it with Linux. Still, websites were slow and email stopped being delivered. I spent all day Labor Day installing operating systems and debugging my computers. On Wednesday, i called my email hosting service to see if there was a problem with the server. With their help, i realized that my email problem was intermittent: it occassionally worked, even though it mostly didn't. Anyhow, the server was fine. I finally had to leave town, as scheduled for a business trip, leaving the family email and network inoperative. My wife depends on email to organing homeschooling activities for both of our children. She wasn't happy about this, and i felt bad leaving things this way.

I told her it was her problem and talked to her and my son about what to do over the phone while i was travelling. She had been hearing a high-pitched sound from the networking equipment and asked about that. I hadn't heard it: i can't hear high ranges. She said she thought it was a blue piece of equipment, or actually the power supply to it. That was our Linksys router. It so happened that i had a spare. I told her where to find it, and she and my teenage son replaced it. It fixed our problems. She's a complete computer novice, and yet she was able to find and fix a problem that i'd struggled with for four days. She'd mentioned the whine earlier, but i had paid much attention to it. I also had never experienced the failure of network equipment before, so i didn't have an idea of how a failure might appear.

So things are working now, although the network is still very slow. Is the internet getting clogged? Or is it just a problem with my ISP?

Posted by bret at 11:48 AM | Comments (0)