The Josephus Problem: How math teaches us to solve problems

When I was in school, I always thought math word problems were a little funny. I understood that the point was for me to apply math to solve real-world problems, but the problems never felt real. However, these days I truly appreciate all of the ways that math taught me how to think about, break down, and work through problems.

Numberphile has a wonderful example of how to approach problem-solving with the Josephus problem:

These are the same skills you can use to solve a problem in support, as well:

  • Gather data about the problem
  • Look for patterns
  • Make a conjecture
  • Test your conjecture

As noted in the video, it’s also incredibly important to tackle small, discrete parts of the problem and work from there to the larger solution. If you stare at a big problem, it can look impossible to solve. But if you can prove theories about small parts of the problem, the larger solution can become clear.

Thank you to all of my teachers and others who encouraged me to learn and practice these skills — although I don’t do much pure math these days, I use these skills every day!

Multilingual Testing

As a polyglot and a former translator, I am a huge advocate for software localization, which also means testing software in multiple languages. Code that works flawlessly in English can totally break down in another language — whether it’s due to missing translations, translations that don’t fit into the space provided by the UI, or bugs that only pop up in other languages. (I found examples of all three while testing the WordPress apps today.)

But that’s not the only reason I like testing in other languages. As soon as I switch to one of my non-native languages, I’m forced to slow down and take a fresh look at the interface. Is everything where I expect it to be? Am I seeing what I’m supposed to see on this screen? Do all the buttons work the way they should? Working in another language can help you look at the software with a fresh set of eyes and find bugs that occur across languages — even in English.

Give it a try! Pick another language you speak — or one you’re trying to learn — and use it while you test. I’m trying to spend at least one day a month using WordPress.com and the WordPress apps in another language. It’ll help my testing, and I’m sure it’ll also help my language skills. 🙂

Multitasking, Testing Style

I’m currently doing a little extra testing on my Mac, to pass the time while Firefox installs on my Windows 10 virtual machine, Android installs an OS update on my new Nexus, and my VPN connects on my iPhone.

P.S. As part of my testing I scheduled this post for the future, so it isn’t actually my current status as you read this. 😉

VaultPress to the Rescue!

This site is hosted at WordPress.com, which means I don’t have to worry about backing up my content or breaking things. (At least not when I’m blogging — and so far I haven’t broken anything while working, either. Knock on wood!) But I also have a self-hosted site, Happy Photos, where I share photos and test all sorts of things. You can see where this is going, right?

I was doing some testing on Happy Photos earlier this week, and I managed to break something. I’m not exactly sure what happened (I think it had to do with rashly deactivating a plugin I relied on) but the end result was a broken login page.

Now, a broken login page isn’t the end of the world when everything else still works. My site itself was still running and I had access to the dashboard. So I was ok. And then, for some completely unknowable reason, I had the bright idea of logging out.

No more access to my site’s dashboard.

Thankfully, I had some other options. My site uses Jetpack, including Jetpack Manage, so I could update the site and even manage the plugins directly from WordPress.com. And I had FTP access to fall back on. Unfortunately, none of the fixes I tried worked … at all. Plus, I was feeling a little impatient to just get back in there. So I turned to VaultPress.

VaultPress is another Automattic service, and I spent a few months last year learning the ropes and providing support for it. In a nutshell, VaultPress provides backups and security for self-hosted WordPress sites. And ever since last year I’ve been using it to back up my self-hosted sites. So tonight I logged in, chose a backup from a couple days ago, and hit the restore button. A few minutes later, this glorious screen appeared:

VaultPress to the rescue
You don’t actually have to keep your browser open during this process, but I couldn’t look away. As soon as I got this success message, I pulled up my site — and there it was, login page and all!

To all of my incredible coworkers and Safekeepers, thank you. You give me the courage to go on testing and breaking things without fear.