Eleanors!

  •  – Sridhar Parthasarathy

Testing is the rewarding career it is because of the thrill of putting one over the developer.  All testers have a bank of bugs that they have seen and are reasonably sure are highly likely to exist in similar situations. The better testers abstract the bug and are able to apply it beyond the initial domain that they encountered it in.  The more average testers use that hard-won bug list as the starting point in testing a new system of a similar type.

However, this article is not about my template bug list.

Instead, I am going to talk about Eleanors.

Who / What . the . hell . is . an .  Eleanor?

In the movie “Gone in 60 Seconds” there is a car a 1967 Shelby Mustang GT500, called Eleanor, that is the hero’s bugbear.  No matter the preparation; no matter the planning; that is the one car that our hero is unable to steal. It is not due to any intrinsic difficulty in the car’s security.  It is, purely and simply, the car that the hero is not able to steal.

Likewise, all testers have seen bugs that has been the most intriguing, most challenging to reproduce and the most baffling to even explain.  I am going to call these the Eleanors of testing and I am going to document a few of them from my own knowledge.

I also invite you, dear reader, to share your Eleanors in the comments below.

Ground Rules

  • The bug itself need not complex or of high severity. It may even be purely a cosmetic bug.  However, it is important that you be most perplexed by it, if you have not figured it out or the most satisfied with, if you have.
  • Need not have happened to you but you should have a decent amount of information that you can share about it.
  • If you have not figured out the root cause for the bug, the community will try take a shot with their own theories
  • Obviously, please be careful about IP and identifying information

A Sample Eleanor

A few decades ago (?) I was in Australia implementing a library management system. This is not your uncle’s library management – this cost millions of dollars per installation and is used by the likes of the  US Library of Congress. In short, it was a complex system and I was supporting it going live.

The customer, a University, called me and said “Sridha”, (Australians don’t pronounce the r at the end of a word. Perversely, they add a totally unnecessary “r” if the word ends with an “a” sound!) “I need your help.  I am not able to retrieve information about Aborgines from the libarary management system.  If I use the ISBN or Author code, I can see that it exists. But if I try searching for Aborgines, the book is not fetched. I think your system is racist.”

When I went over, she proceeded to demonstrate it to me and sure enough, the book was fetched when the ISBN was used but not when she typed out “Aborigines”.

Here’s the intriguing part – the book was fetched when I searched for it!!

Both of us were very baffled and in true Aussie fashion, we decided to see if beer helped. While we achieved a sense of clarity about life, there was absolutely no solution forthcoming regarding the bug itself.

We kept returning to the bug over the next 3-4 weeks (in the scheme of things, it was trivial) but to no avail.

One day, determined to get to the root of the problem, she & I sat next to each other on separate terminals and matched what we were doing step for step. Sure enough, the record was fetched for me but not for her!

I leaned over to see what the difference was and noticed she had typed “Aborginies” with an additional “i” and that solved the problem!

Aussies pronounce the word A-bo-ri-gin-ee and I, knowing the word only from print, used to pronounce it a-bo-ri-gines.  So, when she typed, she automatically ended it with an “nies” as plurals tend to end that way.   I, in my innocence, typed it correctly while mentally pronouncing it wrong!

It is very difficult to think of such a thing happening today, in the age of Google knowing what you want before you do and your phone any way autocorrecting it before it hits Google.  That was a more innocent time, with mainframes, exact matches and data entry!

Please do share your Eleanors in the comments below!

Keep testing!