Still Life

A Series of Mental Snapshots

Archive for May, 2008

Adventures With An Espresso Machine

Posted by Steve on May 23, 2008

The kitchen near my desk had a new coffee machine put in yesterday (May 22nd) and I decided to give it a whirl. I place my cup under the dispenser a see that there are four buttons to press, I was able to ascertain that one was for steam, one for an espresso, one for a full cup and one where it will fill until you tell it to stop. I decided that I wanted a full cup, so I press the full cup button… but a full cup does not come out, I get about a half cup of coffee; I was a little disappointed to say the least. Since the cup was still only half full I decided to try the fill until you stop button. I grab another cup just in case my first one overflows. So the machine starts piping out the coffee, and of course it does overflow, but not very much, maybe by an ounce or so. From this I ascertain that this button won’t give me a full cup either. Now I have used espresso machines before, in fact my parents own one and I used it consistently for 2 years before going off to University, and I KNOW there is a way to set the amount of liquid that comes out on any decent machine, but at this point I don’t know how, there does not seem to be an menu button.

Since I was stuck at the machine, I decide to check the internet, after a few pages, I find out that the amount of water that comes out can range from 2-12 ounces, but it doesn’t tell me how! So I start searching some more and low and behold I find an 2 page PDF of instructions, it tells me that I can access the menu by holding the large coffee button when the machine is turning on, Perfect! So I race back to the machine, after finishing the first coffee of course, eager to try to get a full cup of coffee out. I go into the menu, I get to the doses menu, and access the alrge coffee, the level is set at 425… I think to myself 425 whats? My first thought is that it is 4.25 ounces, so I try to set it to 800, but when I confirm that, it flips back to 425; hmmm seems I have hit a maximum. So I try 550, that works so I decide to see how much coffee comes out now. I take my cup hit the button… still only 3/5 of a cup.

I decided at this point I must have missed something in the instructions, so I go back to it a notice something peculiar under the instructions for setting the doses, it stated “Note: Dose values don’t refer to any measurement unit but the counts of the flowmeter”. I thought to myself, this machine has a computer in it, why could they not have converted this to Milliliters, or ounces!!! I really get riled up about this, especially because I have just finished that second, well third, (because the first one had 2 coffees in it) cup of coffee, knowing that the units are meaningless to me I decide to go back to the machine and do a few more tests. The first was to find the maximum, I did so by going up in increments of 100 and seeing if it would accept the value, I got to 725, and then started going up by 10s (knowing already that 800 was too much) I eventually find the max is 750 flowmeter counts of course. I place the cup, and press the button in anticipation, the coffee starts coming out, and keeps coming, and coming, and coming… It gets within a centimeter from the top and is STILL coming out, I realize I have definitely set it too high, I press the cancel button to avoid a mess. I have at last succeeded in getting a large cup, but one that is a little too large, therefore I go back to the menu and set the value to 700, this is my final adjustment!

I actually didnt test the 700 counts because I felt if I had another coffee I might be awake until the next day, so I left that till this morning, where when I got a coffee, the cup was filled right to the brim, which was a little bit too much. So I set it down another 50 counts, and there we have it the perfect cup of coffee, the cup fills to 7/8 the way, leaving just enough room if I want an extra shot of espresso.

So this may seem like just a mildly entertaining story, but in fact it reveals a lot about my thought process and how I approach problems.
My first attempt was to try all of the buttons to see if they would give me the desired volume
I then went on to trying to set the volume myself without instruction, since I couldn’t do that…
I then tried to find instructions, and once I did I looked for the key piece of information
I went to set the volume, but I was confronted with the unknown units
I then dug deeper into the instructions to find out the units were meaningless
I finally got the desired volume through a series of tests

This is in fact how I approach most problems, I first see if there is a solution already, I then try to find the solution myself. If that fails I go onto documentation, and if that fails I proceed to trial and error. Now if I could only find the person who set the units to flowmeter count and them just what they were thinking, my adventure would be complete.


Posted in Testing, Work: General | Tagged: , , , , | 3 Comments »

Review of Keybreeze – Making your daily life a little easier

Posted by Steve on May 21, 2008

I have not dabbled into writing about products and programs that I use, but this one, Keybreeze, has completely blown me away.

I have always been a big fan of using global hotkeys for as many things as possible, and had started using them pretty extensively over the last couple of months. Since I had gotten used to them on my personal Laptop I decided to set them up on my work computer. I first tried the generic global hotkey program where you have to assign your hotkeys manually, this was getting tedious considering the magnitude of programs that I open at work, so I did some in depth searching, and thats when I ran into keybreeze. Keybreeze is a simple program with incredible power, it gives you access to practically anything with a couple keystrokes.

When keybreeze is installed it goes and automatically assigns a ‘keyword’ to almost everyone of your installed programs and it also comes with a set of useful generic ‘keywords’. The first step after the install is to setup a hotkey that calls up the search bar, its best to pick something that never would be used but is still simple, mine is “ctrl;”. This brings up the search bar seen in the first picture, this is where the magic happens and what makes keybreeze differently. In the search bar you can type in any program you wish to open and keybreeze will give you exact and partial matches of the keywords that match what you have entered. For example I type in the letters ‘se’ and the following options show up:

Service network Utility
Service Manger
Set Window on Top
Configure your server
Close Window

Any of which can be selected. All of the keywords that have been indexed are displayed in an easy to read alphabetically sorted command list. Furthermore it is possible to assign a keyword to practically anything, and anything that you would like auto keyworded that is not done by default can be done automatically.

Now if this wasnt cool enough, there is also a set of features called one letter features. These one letter features can easily start a web search for anything, here are a few defaults (and of course your own custom ones can be setup!)

Google Search: s notepad++
Dictionary Search: d glucose
Wikipedia Search: w Porsche

Also one of the best ones, in my opinion, is the MP3 search. All you have to do is set what media player you use, and the folders to search for MP3s in, and then type ‘p musicfilename’ and that mp3 file will be played. It can also find partial matches really well, for example I have a file called “Sugar Ray – I_Just_Wanna_Fly” all I have to do is type in ‘p fly’ and the file gets played!

There are also a few other interesting features that I haven’t toyed with too much. The first is macros, which are pretty much self explanatory. The second is Text Function which allows you to set a keyword that will paste your specified text into any text box, so for example e-mail signature, date/time etc…

So to sum things up, this may be one of the best Open-Source programs I have ever used. Of course there is room for improvement, but it is pretty amazing as is; I highly recommend that everyone use this program, especially if you are like me and perfer to use the mouse as little as possible! Check it out at .


The Keybreeze Search Bar

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What to do with a useless teammate?

Posted by Steve on May 20, 2008

I ran into a dilemma recently, and that dilemma is how to deal with a practically useless team member. This post is not to complain or vent about the fact that our project suffered because of said teammate but more to analyze the experience, and see if better actions could have been taken.

The project was for a design course, a real full course that would reflect the amount of work a normal engineering course would have. We did however get to pick our teammates; there was three of us at the beginning, and we needed a fourth; a member of our class that I had never worked with asked to be in our group, I was a little hesitant, but out of a slight feeling of social obligations, I did agreed to him joining the group but I was uneasy about it from the beginning.

Here is a short description of the project process
– Come up with project idea, the requirement is that it must be something patentable (2 weeks)
– Write a Requirements and Specifications report ~20pgs, (1 week, 20% of course grade)
– Design a prototype, and make a presentation and poster for it (9 weeks, 40% of course grade)
– Write a final report ~30pgs, (1 week, 40% of course grade)

Here are some of the issues that came up with him over the term:

– When coming up with ideas for the project, he did not contribute anything useful and would not do the research into topics that he said he would.
– He would say he would do something, or get something done, and then it wouldnt not get done (this happened various times)
– Quality of work was very poor
– Poor focus at group meetings, often would be surfing web sites during the meeting
– Not a self starter, therefore if he was given an area to try to work on, practically nothing would get done (this led to him doing practically nothing for the prototype)

So as you can see there were quite a few issues, and it essentially made a four person project into a three person project. The question here is, what do you do in this situation?

In a work situation, I would trust that if someone isnt pulling their weight, it will be noticed, and they will suffer the consequences. It may result in you having to do more work temporarily, but that should also get noticed, and you will have the benefits of being a hard worker. So in the work place, a non productive team member seems to be something that is easier to manage, at least to a certain degree. Feel free to correct me if you feel differently.

With this school project, we were stuck, with this group member, there was no getting around that. Also everyone receives the same grade on the project, therefore there is no specific benefit to individual team members (over the rest of the team, grades wise) to doing more work, but the work has to get done nonetheless.

Our solution for the reports was to try to assign him very straightforward and simple work, to try and lighten the load on the three of us. This only sort of worked. The simple work that we assigned him would get done, but not nearly to the desired quality, so we would end up having to re-write a large portion of it, eventually leading to an all nighter in the attempt to get the work done. In the end the quality was still not as desired, but that was mainly because of the difficulty of doing 4 peoples worth of work with only 3 people.

The work on the prototype was also a major issue; the main problem, we would give him a broad area to investigate, but he would not get anything substantial done. This was where I felt we could have really done something differently. It was identified at an early stage that this team member would be less productive then the rest, and most likely needed more guidance, but this guidance was never really given. Since we were all ‘equal’ team members, it was difficult for someone to step up to be in the leader role, especially since we ALL had a lot of work to do, and stepping up to the leader role would just be MORE work; so no one did take on the role, no one coached him, and thus the three of us ended up doing all of the work.

It was an interesting experience, and taught me some good lessons on how to handle this kind of situation when it happens again, because I am guessing that it, unfortunately, is a situation that will come up again in the future.


Posted in People Problems | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »

It’s only a job title… right?

Posted by Steve on May 15, 2008

I have recently been putting quite a bit of thought into job titles and have come to somewhat of an impasse. Recently I said I would help revamp a job posting for the test coop position, and one of the road blocks that I have hit is what to put in the title. The posting is for the waterloo coop system and it would be an understatement to say that the system is less than ideal. There are two things about it that make a title so important:

1. The time window that a job posting is up is about 3 days and there are LOTS of jobs, enough that you cannot see them all in that short time period, thus the job title has to catch a potential coops attention if you want lots of applicants.
2. The only real way to do a search on the jobs is by job title; it is not possible to search what the actual posting says, thus the only way to try and pinpoint jobs you might want is by title

Well it’s just a title right? It shouldn’t be that hard to make one that is appealing; in most cases that might be true, but because this is a test position it is a little more difficult; unfortunately, especially in the coop program, Test (or QA) has a very bad rep, and rightfully so in some cases. I personally have worked a terrible Test coop job, we were glorified typing monkeys, I was given a very rigid test plan to go through that consisted of about 200 tests, and by the end I had done some of them up to 30-40 times! Furthermore creativity was also pretty much discouraged, going outside of our area was frowned upon and to top it off developers didn’t think much of testers, that basically saw us as a walking, typing monkey. So because of this experience I can sympathize with those who fear that testing job, because it is difficult to know if it will be good or not.

In getting back to the job title, I was considering if there was a way to put less emphasis on test in the title, so that people will actually look further into the job, and not disregard it simply based on the fact that the word test is in the title. I thought about it for a while, and decided that there would be no real way to represent this job properly without having test in the title, but I did come up with an idea that would actually represent the job better and might appeal to more people,

Software Testing and Development Specialist

Now the specialist might not be in the final rendition, but I think the development is actually an important thing to put in the title. The job definitely has room for development, and it something that seems to interest a lot of people and it demonstrates that the job is multi faceted.

I was contemplating putting this up or not, simply because it’s a very specific problem for me, but I figured heh why not!

An annoying problem can often be seen as an interesting challenge, as with many things in life, it’s all about perception.

Posted in Testing | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

Giving and Accepting Advice… it shouldn’t be this hard, should it?

Posted by Steve on May 11, 2008

I have had thoughts on this topic for a while, and have had them surface recently because I have been reading the book “The Secrets of Consulting” by Gerald Weinberg and am about 50 pages into it. The book, as the title suggests is about consulting, which is in effect giving advice to people who say that they want. The reason I highlight say, is because the book discusses that even if someone says that they want your advice they rarely actually want it. I am going to go into my thoughts on firstly receiving advice, then I will go into actually giving it.

Receiving Advice
I have two questions to pose first, think about these two questions for a bit:

How often have you reacted adversely to someone trying to help you?
How often have you reacted adversely to someone giving advice?

From my personal experience I would rarely have an adverse reaction if someone is trying to help me, but as soon as someone offers advice, of any kind, I sometimes become defensive, discredit what they are saying or simply ask myself ‘why should they know better than I do?’. It is an interesting occurrence since the difference between the two is very minor. When someone gives advice, are they not trying to help you?

Maybe the difference is that if someone offers to help you, thats all it is help. But when someone gives you advice, perhaps you are admitting to yourself that someone else knows more than you, that they know better than you. I think that that is exactly where the problem lies, just because someone gives you advice on something, it does not mean that they necessarily know better.

Since I have had these feelings of defensive towards receiving advice, I have actively tried to be receptive to all advice, because it can never hurt to hear someone’s advice, the worst case scenario, it is not good advice and you choose to ignore it. I really feel that your attitude to receiving advice is what really matters, so to try to be more receptive to advice, I actively try to listen and be open to any advice people are willing to offer, and then if it does turn out that I feel it is not pertinent or good advice, I simply file it away and do not act on it, as stated above hearing the advice cannot hurt.

Giving Advice
I wrote a little more than expected on receiving advice, so I will only state the most important thing I have learned about giving advice, something that my dad actually taught me: Always ask if someone wants your advice before giving it. I always ask someone, “would you like advice” before giving any, and will actually not proceed to give them any if they say no. That is actually the most difficult part, not giving advice when you want to, but it is important to know unwanted advice will usually have a neutral or negative impact. Furthermore if someone refuses your advice, it feels a bit like a personal insult, like they think you do not know what you are talking about; that is another thing that is difficult to get over, but is still very important, often times someone not wanting advice has very little to do with you specifically, often people want to work through things on their own.

There you have it, a few thoughts on receiving and giving advice. This is definitely a topic I am looking to expand on and these are just some first thoughts.

Advice, good or bad, should always be heard but need not be acted on.
–Steve Swanson

Posted in Work: General | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »