The importance of software testing

At work we have a nifty electronic postage kiosk that will weigh letters, compute the postage, print a postage strip, and bill a credit card all through a display and touch screen. When I tried using it to mail a letter, everything went fine until I got a Internet Explorer error dialog:
Error message
It's always a surprise when an embedded system reveals its inner workings. Somehow I assume such systems are built on some super-special technology, not HTML and Internet Explorer.

I should mention that I was just sending a letter to Canada. While this isn't the most common thing to do, it's not a particularly bizarre action either. And I definitely wasn't doing a sinister action such as sending a letter to the country of "DROP TABLE". (I should also mention that this blog posting has nothing to do with Arc, in case my regular readers are wondering.)

I started over with the kiosk and the same error dialog appeared again. At this point, I dismissed the dialog box via the touch screen and continued with Buy Postage. It displayed "Total Postage $NaN" (i.e. Not a Number). When it asked for my credit card, I hesitated briefly, I figured the worst case was I'd have to send them a check for 0/0; it's not like they were going to bill me +Infinity. Curiosity got the better of me and I decided to plunge forward in the interests of science. After I swiped my credit card, the kiosk printed a $0.69 postage strip, and gave me a receipt:
Sure enough, the receipt said my credit card had been charged $NaN. I can only imagine what the billing backend would make of that. I called my credit card company to check what really happened, but the day's transactions weren't available yet.

I see a couple morals to this story. The most obvious is that normal people don't swipe their credit cards through a machine offering to bill them $NaN. But the more relevant moral is that error checking and software testing is a good thing, especially when monetary transactions are concerned.

P.S. I emailed the kiosk support, and they assured me that the billing problems following a "system change" were resolved, and I'd be billed the proper $0.69.

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MacroTesting said...
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