New Features: It's a short list this time around, but don't worry -- there are lots of things in the works for 2008.
We mentioned the two new buttons last issue; the Moderators have a bit more of an explanation below. Experts Exchange has also started sending out emails to members when their questions go more than a week without a comment, reminding them of their obligation to both respond and eventually close the question.
A non-feature of note: The Dell laptops that were sent to the three winners of our Power of 2 Million contests -- satmanuk, steelseth12 and FernandoSoto -- have arrived at their destinations. Sooner or later, one of them will send us a photo... (hint hint)
And finally, our next issue will feature the Expert of the Year awards. Watch for it!
Debating on the best "zone" in which to place this, and settled here.
As I sit here sipping my eggnog and&&., reflecting on the past year, I'd like to thank all of the zone advisors, community advisors, page editors, clean up staff. moderators, administrators, and other support staff, as well as fellow experts for making this a great site and a great year. To all denominations, a Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Season's Greetings, a Happy New Year, and wishing that your life is as fortunate as mine.
Thank you, Rob. We think we'll come back and do it again.
In Memoriam: Robert Marquardt, a member of Experts Exchange since 1999, died of cancer last week. In addition to his contributions to the Delphi zone, he was also the system operator for the Project Gutenburg Distributed Proofreaders wiki.
We've been following some of these stories for years; others just popped up fairly recently, but their impact will keep us busy for quite some time. We've put them in no particular order; it's a little presumptuous, we think, to say one is more important than the other.
Apple launches the iPhone: It didn't get great reviews -- good, but not great -- and if you're in the US, you're stuck with AT&T as a carrier (in Europe, you can buy an unlocked version). Still, Apple has sold a ton of them, which makes MaBell happy. Given that the hackers have, so far, outlasted the people at Apple who keep trying to turn iPhones into iBricks, sooner or later we might wind up being able to use the phone we want with the provider we want... but don't hold your breath waiting for it to happen.
Google and WiFi: It's not just that Google will be bidding on the FTC's auction of the wireless spectrum. It's more that Google is putting its gravitas behind the Open Handset Alliance that will keep this story on the tech and business pages for some time. If there's anyone that isn't the European Union who can prod Apple into building a non-AT&T version, it would be Google.
Microsoft stops the bleeding: Microsoft, after about 14 years, finally came to terms with the European Union, and will pay the fine levied against it for antitrust violations. For all its warts, including the less-than-enthusiastic reception its launch of Vista (and don't forget the Zune) has had, Microsoft managed to drop a few notches on the list of "companies we love to hate" list, as Apple, Yahoo, Google and AT&T pulled stunts this year that got the Arrogance Police's attention.
Google and DoubleClick: This will be a big story, but for all the wrong reasons. We don't know about you, but we're a little less offended by text ads to the side of a browser window (albeit tailored to fit our search habits) than we are the TV ads that are repeated every 15 minutes from the guy pushing the latest greatest cleaning product at the top of his lungs. Are we concerned about Google having a ton of information on us? Not really -- at least, not until they start handing it over to someone else (see next item).
Who's watching Gilbert Grape?: ... and everyone else, as it turns out? The NSA, with a huge assist from AT&T, that's who. We'll be the first to admit that the "right to privacy" isn't one of those things enumerated in the US Constitution, but there is that pesky Fourth Amendment. To paraphrase FDR, the only thing we have to fear is the government itself.
And here's a good reason to fear it: Last year, it was the Veteran's Administration losing 25.5 million records of former servicemen in the US. This year, it was the British tax and customs agency losing the records of something like 40 per cent of the country's population. There is no question that the NSA is reasonably more paranoid about what it collects and keeps than is the HMRC, but all it takes is means, motive and opportunity; just ask TJMaxx.
Net neutrality: We don't know why we keep putting this one on the list, when we know full well that doing something that is contrary to the interests of outfits like MaBell and Comcast isn't likely to fly, either with the Federal Trade Commission, the Federal Communications Commission or Congress. We already know that both companies have ways of choking the speed and timeliness of the traffic through their pipes, so it's a matter of time before they decide it's in their best interests to impose them. The story will be "then what happens?".
War Games: One thing we have learned is that where there are nations and smoke, there's usually an explosive device of some kind. Add to that networks that may or may not be as secure as one would like, and you have a mixture that is fraught with the potential for mischief disguised as patriotism. There is already some compelling evidence that Russia and China are being aggressive about seeing what other nations are doing, and no doubt, those nations are responding in kind. The good news: so far, no one is shooting.
Copyrights and patents: One remembers the predictions of lawsuits when Google bought YouTube that were akin to predicting the sun would rise. There was the nasty squabble between RIM and NTP over who owned the patents on the Blackberry. Then there's the photographer in San Francisco who thinks she should have been paid when a photograph she took appeared (greatly reduced in size) for about a second in a video on YouTube. Someone has to figure out a way to stop the insanity.
The story that wasn't: There were two, actually. One was the three-months-long set of emails over incandescent light bulbs (did anyone notice that most of the lights on Christmas trees will need to be replaced, by the way?). The other was that so far, with few exceptions, municipal WiFi systems haven't gone anywhere when the municipal government is involved.
Experts Exchange reloads: As 2007 began, Experts Exchange was about a month or so into giving members a glimpse of the future. As it closes, EE launched its site with a minimum of interruptions and managed to get its 2,000,000th solution along the way. The technology it unveiled is unique; it all but eliminates navigation in the traditional sense, despite about 700 new zones, and the average span from question opening to question closing dropped by about a third. Not bad for a little company in San Luis Obispo... not bad at all.
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About this time of year, everyone has a list of something. We've just decided to make it easy for you.
Can you tell us about the two new buttons?
We are happy to. Experts Exchange recently started showing two new buttons in questions that are posted. One of them says Delete Question, and the other Report Abuse.
The first one is visible only to the asker of the question, and can actually be used to request that we close the question (a "PAQ/refund") as well as delete it. But the rules haven't changed; it just saves you the trouble of having to post a request in the Community Support zone.
When you click the button, a form pops up asking you to give the reason for your request. If you don't fill it out, we're very likely to pay more attention to the Experts' comments in the thread than we are to yours, so make sure you give your reason. You also won't get a refund of your points unless you have responded to the Experts' comments. We will look at the question, and if we think (or if the Zone Advisor for that zone thinks) that someone's comment does answer the question, we may decide that they should be awarded.
In every case, we always give the participants in the thread four days to object to your request, so don't think that clicking the button relieves you of any responsibility for your question.
The other button says "abuse" on it, but it can be used by any member to report something that might be a violation of the Membership Agreement, be that flaming another member or asking for a free download of Windows Vista Pro. It also posts a question for you in the CS zone.
Fat lady starts doing scales: For most of us, 1995 was the year the world changed. In our case, a little company opened up shop up the street, and wanted to swap out advertising for "Internet access". We were already transferring files between offices electronically, but this was something more. They handed us a little floppy disk, and we were hooked, mostly by a delightful application called Netscape... which brings us to last week, when AOL, which acquired Netscape in late 1998, announced it would be ending its support of the Netscape browser on February 1, 2008.
Speaking of shutdowns, Apple may have lost all of the legal battles in its attempts to find out the sources of information for ThinkSecret.com, a website dedicated to spilling all the secrets Steve Jobs tries to keep, but it has won the war. ThinkSecret has agreed to stop publishing secrets, but won't have to reveal any of its extremely-accurate sources. But for the people who love it when big companies gnash their teeth publicly (like we do), don't worry; if there's one thing about someone who likes telling secrets, it's that he'll find someone to tell them to.
The Grinch, in the form of Warner Music Group, stopped by Apple as well, as it announced that it had signed up with Amazon.com to deliver MP3 files without DRM (digital rights management) protection. That leaves Sony as the lone major label that doesn't have an agreement with Amazon. Apple isn't sitting still, though; it has signed a deal with 20th Century Fox to rent movies for the studio, and will have a new Mac laptop, probably by the time our next newsletter comes out.
I don't think they were thinking of "My Eyes Glazeth Over": It's probably a sign of advancing age, but we just don't get the whole "virtual" world thing. Maybe it's because we actually like walking on golf courses, or digging holes to plant roses in, or sitting down with a real bowl of world-class cioppino, but the idea of reinventing ourselves in an image other than the one we present to the "real" world seems little more than elaborate (and probably expensive) foray into the world of self-delusion. Not that it matters what we think; there's a new site out there that lets you create yourself and then take it with you to other sites. On the other hand, just imagine the fun you could have with someone... or even with yourself.
1000 monkeys using 1000 typewriters could write Shakespeare, too: A CIO we used to work with once said that the only thing a manufacturer-issued certificate proved was that the person who had one could take a test. Apparently, it doesn't necessarily prove that either.
Somehow, we don't think the MGM-Mirage folks are losing a lot of sleep: The World Trade Organization slapped the US government with $21 million in sanctions because of its ban on online gambling. Preliminary drawings by the Antiguan government for its own luxury hotel and condominium complex were promptly used to line a birdcage.
Sign of the Apocalypse: For faithful readers of the chronicles of the machinations of the recording industry, this one speaks for itself. We can just see the RIAA lawyers counting the number of 12-year-olds in China who are downloading illegal copies of Hannah Montana videos. Also, the US government giving something back.
Okay, so you have your new toys -- the new laptop, or that nice new 55-inch LCD HiDef television, maybe even a new iPhone -- now, what are you going to do with the old stuff? There's nothing really wrong with that 32-inch TV you bought six years ago, but it's old, right?
One thing you don't want to do is simply toss it in the trash. Our local dump won't let you toss an old computer monitor; they have to be taken to a special recycling facility. You should make sure that the recycler is legitimate, though. According to GreenCitizen.com, as much as 80 per cent of America's electronic waste winds up in Asia, but it's just as toxic there as it is here. ComputerTakeBack has a list of responsible recyclers, and they're involved in TV recycling as well.
Some companies, like Dell, will take back their products if you're buying something new, and there are other organizations and companies which will take your hands off your old cell phone; our bank collects them for donation to US military personnel stationed overseas. Apple will give you a recycling certificate for that old PC when you buy a Mac, and they also take back old iPods. So you should be able to unload your old stuff without just leaving it on the curb.
Over the Christmas holiday, I received three copies of an email that looked for all the world like an email from PayPal saying that a dispute had been resolved, costing me $35. Since I don't have a PayPal account, I wasn't terribly worried about it, but a little detective work found that the link -- when you mouse over it, you think it's a link to PayPal's login -- goes to the website of a body shop in Nebraska. My other half sent the email off to PayPal; I'll let you know if anything comes of it. Another item making the rounds is a Trojan that, according to BitDefender, hijacks Google text ads.
Finally, we tend to travel quite a bit, and some of the time, it's by plane, and usually, we take the laptops with us. It's going to be interesting to see what happens as more and more airlines offer Internet service on their flights. All things considered, we might just start driving.