A Postmortem on New Testing Methodologies for Asterisk

An Open Letter to Rod Montgomery:

One of the more disappointing moments for a teacher1 has got to be reading over test papers only to discover that some of your students missed the whole point of what you thought was one of your very best lectures. As someone who practiced law for many years on both sides of the fence, we observed first hand that how folks say something is often just as important as what they say. And, of course, in the blogosphere, we don’t give tests. Thus, judging results is often difficult. We also appreciate that when you don’t know someone personally, it’s often difficult to measure whether something is being said seriously or merely reflects the writer’s unique sense of humor. We all have our quirks, don’t we? But, when the Product Manager of Digium®, The Asterisk® Company, posts a tweet like this, it gives us pause to reflect on how we can (again) improve our communication skills:

@roderickm: Give a man a fish & he’ll berate you on his blog for not cooking it & serving him a full 7-course meal. #hatersgonnahate
1 Jun

First and foremost, we don’t hate Digium! In fact, with the exception of deviled eggs, we don’t hate much of anything. As for Asterisk, we’ve spent the better part of the last decade writing and learning about it along with most of our readers. We like it a lot! It’s a platform that has provided an enormous opportunity in technology for the have-not’s of the world. Millions of people in third world countries wouldn’t have much in the way of communications if it weren’t for Asterisk. I recall a discussion with my friend, Joe Roper, about his early work in South America interconnecting villages with wireless meshed networks. These people had no communications until Asterisk came along. And we have written about the important role that Asterisk can play in helping countries quickly recover from terrible disasters such has earthquakes and hurricanes.2 And then, of course, there are the rest of us who have used Asterisk to reach plateaus that never were possible at any price with proprietary PBXs. So, no, we don’t hate Digium. Nor do we begrudge Digium’s success in any way. We got into Asterisk development to give something back to those that haven’t been as fortunate as some of the rest of us. It’s not missionary work, but it’s the least we could do in appreciation for all that we have. And we’re happy doing it!

To suggest that interest in Asterisk is growing would be an understatement. Take a look at the 2010 readership for Nerd Vittles which received over a Billion hits for the year. And we’re now seeing over two million visits a year from well over a half million unique visitors representing almost every country on Earth.

Readership of Nerd Vittles in 2011 is up by a whopping 40 per cent from 2010! Some have suggested that it’s one of the best advertising bargains on the web. My wife brags to our friends that our income has doubled and that I’m now working for 10¢ an hour instead of the 5¢ we got during the last five years. You may think I’m overpaid, and you may be right. Just don’t tell my wife.

Photo courtesy of Tom Keating. Click on the photo for a tour.

Part of the reason we created Nerd Vittles was because we wanted to record what we had learned so we could find it when we needed to use it again. But writing a technical blog is a lot of work and needs a certain mix of technical information and entertainment value lest everyone be put to sleep. We also plead guilty to being drawn to hyperbole from time to time to make a point. So we want to apologize to the Digium folks that were offended by our references to leather chairs and the beautiful building. YOU DESERVE EVERY CHAIR AND A MUCH BIGGER BUILDING FOR WHAT YOU’VE PROVIDED FOR FREE TO THE GLOBAL COMMUNITY!

What’s particularly disappointing is our hyperbole got in the way of what we see as a very real issue for the Asterisk development community. To further address your tweet, we went back through nearly 500 articles on Asterisk that we’ve published on Nerd Vittles.3 On only 4 occasions have we been even arguably critical of Asterisk development. Every one has earned us a personal attack by the way. The first two involved what we believed were design mistakes in Asterisk 1.6: text-to-speech applications were all broken and dialplan syntax was changed from a vertical bar to a comma which broke almost every Asterisk 1.2 and 1.4 dialplan that already had been written. When Asterisk 1.8 rolled out, guess what? Text-to-speech apps were fixed within days by Darren Sessions (now with Digium). And there were no dialplan syntax changes. Bravo!

The last two articles weren’t so much a criticism of Asterisk development as a couple of constructive suggestions (we thought) for future development, i.e. recommendations that Digium test new Asterisk code internally before releasing it to the public: eating your own dog food and regression testing. The comments accompanying both of those articles are much more persuasive in making the case for implementation of a testing methodology than the Nerd Vittles articles themselves. And we would encourage everyone to read them for some interesting historical insight if for nothing else.

So, the short answer, Rod, is that we’ve never asked anyone to cook our fish for us. Indeed, we’ve invested the better part of 3 decades showing others how to “cook fish.” That includes dozens and dozens of Asterisk applications that were provided to the Asterisk community at no cost over the last ten years. They’ve been downloaded by hundreds of thousands of Asterisk users from almost every country in the world. So we, too, have done our fair share of serving up 7-course meals.4

As for eating one’s own dog food, that wasn’t intended as a slam at all. It is a well-recognized testing methodology that has been employed by almost all of the major technology companies for decades: Novell, Microsoft, Google, Sun, Apple, and on, and on. The real beauty of Asterisk is that companies don’t need to throw the baby out with the bath water to take advantage of all the wonderful features that Asterisk brings to the table. We have commercial customers, for example, that use Asterisk side by side with their existing commercial PBXs. Digium could do much the same thing without any impact on their existing Switchvox® implementation at Digium’s headquarters. For example, by adding an Incredible PBX with Asterisk 1.8 to the existing network, anyone throughout Digium then could take advantage of the many Asterisk applications plus free Google Voice calling that don’t work with Switchvox. And the integration would be transparent with users simply dialing a call prefix to route calls out through the latest open source Asterisk build. Just to reiterate, almost none of the Incredible PBX feature set is available with Switchvox! Nor would it get in the way of Digium’s day-to-day operation. At the same time, it would provide helpful feedback to the Asterisk developers on whether something got inadvertently broken in a new release. Nerd Vittles would be happy to donate one of our little servers and assist with deployment if that would be helpful. As for regression testing, efforts already are underway thanks to the work of Paul Belanger at Digium. Others can join in as well. Just pay them a visit on IRC: #asterisk-testing at irc.freenode.net.

In conclusion, we’ve invested about as many hours in making Asterisk better as anyone else on the planet. If we offer suggestions, they are meant to be constructive. Ignore the hyperbole. We love all of the wonderful things that Asterisk and the Asterisk development community have made possible in the communications world, and we’re glad to be a part of it. Let’s put aside the personal attacks and discuss the merits of improving the testing methodology for the benefit of everyone in our Asterisk community. Happy Father’s Day to all.

Best regards,

Astricon 2011. Astricon 2011 will be in the Denver area beginning Tuesday, October 25, through Thursday, October 27. We hope to see many of you there. Be sure to mention you’d like a free PIAF thumb drive. We hope to have a bunch of them to pass out to our loyal supporters. Nerd Vittles readers also can save 15% on your registration by using this coupon code. Register by July 10 to save an additional $170.

Continue reading The Final Chapter

Originally published: Sunday, June 19, 2011



Farewell to a Friend. We wanted to express our disappointment with the termination of the Michigan Telephone Blog which has been one of the better Asterisk and VoIP blogs for the last several years. While we aren’t privy to the circumstances that led to the closing, we wanted to express our gratitude to the author for his many thought-provoking articles. We’ll miss your expertise!




Great News: Nicolás Gudiño’s terrific Asternic CDR Reports now are included in every new Incredible PBX build. And they also are available at no cost for use in any FreePBX-based Asterisk system. Here’s a step-by-step tutorial to get you started.




Need help with Asterisk? Visit the PBX in a Flash Forum.
Or Try the New, Free PBX in a Flash Conference Bridge.


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Some Recent Nerd Vittles Articles of Interest…

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  1. FULL DISCLOSURE: I actually taught courses for the Institute for Court Management in the Colorado mountains for many years, mostly because I liked the Colorado mountains. At the end of every session, the students were asked to rate the teacher on a scale of 1 to 5. Invariably, I received fairy respectable ratings, but there always was one student (and occasionally two) that awarded me the “1″ grade. I attributed this to a famous quote from one of my early commanders during my short-lived military career (I was drafted during the Vietnam War if you remember that long ago): “Ward. There’s just something about you that pisses some people off.” So, thank you, Colonel. I’ve come to accept that as my cross to bear in life. If you happen to be one of those poor souls who is offended by my commentary, you have my deepest apologies in advance. Of course, you also have the option of not continually subjecting yourself to these diatribes. But we’d miss you! Disagreements are part of what makes the world go ’round… in our humble opinion, of course. []
  2. See this recent article for additional examples in Bukuuku, Uganda, in Haiti, and on the Island of Niue. []
  3. You can review the last hundred articles published on Nerd Vittles at this link. []
  4. To put it in historical perspective, many of Digium’s staff including its founder were barely out of diapers when we introduced our first shareware application, WAMPUM. And then there was Zephyr, and dLite, and Badge-O-Matic, and… []

12 Responses to “A Postmortem on New Testing Methodologies for Asterisk”

  1. IsaacL says:

    Well said, Ward, and thanks for all your contributions to the Asterisk and PBX in a Flash communities!!

  2. Ian Worthington says:

    Ward, I think you undersell yourself. It is a *damning* indictment that Digium does not have enough faith in Asterisk to use it as their own system.

    Maybe the analogy Rod was searching for involved something to do with a well recognised chef trying experimental methods of cooking fish with toxic ingredients and trying them out first on other people?

  3. Kanti Purohit says:

    Ward:

    Over the years, I have crawled many blogs and forums related to Asterisk. Long ago, when Asterisk@Home first appeared, I thought I was in heaven because I never could configure bare Asterisk.

    Then came along Nerd Vittles. What can I say – you are the best, the most helpful, and the most responsive. Above all, you anticipate what problems your readers may encounter – especially the newbies.

    I have agreed with you on Digium’s developmental and testing issues you brought to light. Having been involved with software most of my professional life, I couldn’t agree more with Ian’s comment: “It is a *damning* indictment that Digium does not have enough faith in Asterisk to use it as their own system.” To me, that’s the first rule of development.

    I remember when I first got involved with VoIP. I knew I had to “cut the cord” if really wanted to learn. So, when I first subscribed to a VoIP service from Vonage, I literally cut the incoming telephone wires from Verizon. Same with Asterisk, no commercial PBX.

    Finally, as a marketer, I concur with the need to use hyperbole – or controversy – to make a point, to instigate a debate.

    I thank you – and Digium – for what you have given to the world!

  4. ewb says:

    As an individual that put together his first Asterisk derived PBX using a different distribution than PiaF, I would have to admit that the reason I explored nerdvittles and PiaF was because my second and third PBX installs were needing to be significantly easier than my prior experience. I was pleased to find that installing PiaF with the nerdvittles extensions provided me with a working system very quickly.

    Unfortunately, building new systems to replace older hardware has me thinking that Digium may not be as committed to this tool as I am. My consideration of purchasing hardware from Digium has definitely been impacted, and my thoughts have turned to how the job can be done potentially without Asterisk. It makes me sad. Maybe enough contemplation will help resolve this situation.

  5. James Crowe says:

    I think Nerd Vittles is doing a fantastic great job.
    Without them and their blog I would probably not be able to have the great opportunities and success with Asterisk.
    This blog is a life line to many who use and configure Asterisk. Keep up the fantastic work Ward and a many thanks to you and your team.

  6. Ronald Gibson says:

    I’m staying with v1.4 for as long as I can. Right now it works the way I want it to. Every once in a while I try to duplicate what I have. Text-to speech, that’s one that works. Next is to get FreePBX v2.8 to fix the “lookup local prefixes”. It’s for the home phone and want to keep it for just local dialing. So far this latest download will not let me do that. There might be more things wrong, I’m doing it in little steps.

  7. DWM says:

    Keep up the great work Ward and know that your efforts are appreciated by many people. I read the ‘dog food’ post and comments, and I believe your argument was both respectful and reasonable. Unfortunately in society there seems to be a tendency to try to shout down dissent, no matter how constructive it is. Keep doing what you are doing and trust that cooler heads will prevail at Digium and your voice will be heard.

  8. Harold says:

    Since several people have mentioned thanks here I’d like to chime in too and thank both Nerd Vittles and Digium for their work.

    Digium: Thanks for creating a rock solid (at least in my application of it) Telephony program. It really came in handy where I worked. I integrated it with an existing Merlin Legend PBX and used to route international calls to China. Asterisk saved the company a lot of money!

    Nerd Vittles: Without you and FreePBX I probably would have given up on Asterisk. While Asterisk has been rock solid in usage, getting it setup and working was extremely difficult. That is partly the nature of a phone system, but it is not helped by the Asterisk cryptic command syntax. Nerd Vittles to the rescue: you have packaged Asterisk, added features to it and promoted it like no other!

    The dove with the olive branch at the end of the article was a nice touch too.

    Finally, I’d like to comment on the footnotes for this article. I used FoxPro and Clipper in their hay day and still have a client using a FoxPro application I maintain. I vaguely remember something about WAMPUM too. Thanks Ward for your contribution to the dBase era of database software. I hope Asterisk won’t meet the same fate as dBase.

  9. Chris Mylonas says:

    1.15 billion hits – telephony isn’t that exciting :)

  10. Paul Dobbertin says:

    Thank you again Ward for being such a reliable and steady beacon. I’ve been following Nerd Vittles for over 10 years.

    Speaking of fish (i.e. “Les Poisson” Anyone who knows me well will recall hearing me say this, and I will repeat it again here in reference to this article, “It’s not the Chefs that made French cooking great.” To anyone who hasn’t dined in a French restaurant, their is a consistent exchange between the Chefs and their patrons, and as is often depicted in films, it sometimes gets testy.

    Anyone worth their salt in the design process of anything needs to understand and appreciate constructive criticism, and use it in a methodology of constant improvement. Otherwise, dog food remains, well…dog food.

  11. Joshua Welch says:

    Just going with the “Thanks for being Ward. And you piss me off sometimes too.” (j/k you never make me mad.)

  12. L Gaetz says:

    quote:
    “…with the exception of deviled eggs, we don’t hate much of anything.”

    Blatant eggism pure and simple.
    #hatersgonnahate

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