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Your Technology Problems...SOLVED

MARCH 2, 2011


What's New at Experts Exchange
From the Central Coast and beyond

A Place To Call Home
On building communities

Nata's Corner
Privacy, stolen data, and a couple of tips

Tip From The Mods
Suppose you don't really know?

More News and Notes
The bigger they are, the harder..

Who did what through Feb. 26


What's New: Experts Exchange will be foregoing a release this week while it upgrades its Oracle database to the latest version.

Empty, unlit place for books: For those of you who are rushing to your neighborhood Border's to see if there is anything left to buy, AnnieMod asks that you consider picking up a children's book and sending it to Books For Keeps, a charity that gives books to kids who don't have them.

Kudos: younghv has had a busy couple of weeks. First, he ran into fcek's problem with the Palladium virus that got him a comment of "This was perfect." After that, it was ThomasFjord's problem with an infection called "system tool": "Thanks a lot. It is like being re-born." Then a few days later, he came across artismobile's question about the "Windows Optimal Tool" trojan. It took some research and a lot of back and forth, but the reward was worth it: "I've been a fan of EE for years now and I always follow the advice. Yes, all functions are operational... Great instruction! The solution was perfect!" younghv sent us a note about it as well: "That question was a genuwine motor-scooter - but I'll bet you your favorite adult beverage that we will be seeing more of that infection."

steve_york was looking for something to convert eastings and northings into UK postal codes and got help from MASQUERAID: "This why EE membership is 110% worth it."

jdcreece tried just about everything he could think of to recover a PST file (even asking the Mods for assistance), and DavisMcCarn not only found him the explanation: "Thanks a lot for helping me out and not being patronizing. It's great to get answers, it's better to understand them."

toooki was having trouble understanding Oracle date queries until sdstuber gave an explanation: "Many thanks for the explanations. It took me long to understand. I never learnt this much from a single query."

Most of the time, the praise doesn't come out until a tough question has been answered, but that wasn't the case in mikegeorge2's question about a change to a WordPress stylesheet: "I am so glad EE is still around! Just signed up again after a 10 year absence. Terrific!" ... but it didn't stop there. After Designbyonyx provided some code to solve the problem, mikegeorge2 offered this: "Kick ass! Thank you."

TwentyFourSeven was a little "confused" about his Exchange namespace until he got an explanation from tigermatt: "Now that's what I call an answer to a question! Other "experts" on EE should take note! Well deserved 500 points tigermatt!"

Every once in a while, the Mods run into a question that they are required to delete for some reason; such was the case in sirius7's issue with an Exchange server. Nonetheless, he had the following to say about the Expert who helped him, lucid8: "Lucid8 went the whole 9 yards and more to provide solutions and determining the integrity of my exchange database. Without them I would have spent (probably) another month trying to figure this out. And I did not have to spend a dime, but would have given my first born for this kind of assistance!"

Email: In our last issue, we included a note from someone to Nata regarding the time he spends waiting during software installations just so he can click a button and wait a while longer. That prompted a note from timprotech: "A follow up on your newsletter reader who keeps waiting around to make decisions while installing pre-packaged software. I really hate how this sounds, but: Get a Mac. The hurry up, wait, make a decision, and wait again almost never happens on Mac OS X software installs. If there are any decisions they're usually called for up front. Even complete operating system installs take you through some brief setup options, often only for savvies with special cases, and let you walk away to come back to a simple screen waiting for you to log in to your fresh new OS. Most third party software installs only ask you to drag an icon to your Applications folder; even Microsoft Office for Mac! Then launch your app, enter the serial number and get to work. At least in my Windows days I could often go fill my cuppa joe between waiting and deciding, waiting and deciding."

Please. George Bernard Shaw once said, "If all the economists were laid end to end, they would not reach a conclusion." The same has been true for 25 years with the PC vs. Mac debate (sorry, Susan), but if people want to send us their diatribes (keep it clean, please), we'll be happy to give you some space. Just include your username.

We also got a note from FuBu about our commentary on truth in publicity-seeking: "I like your Mr Buckley quote on idealism." Thank you; it's one of our favorites.

Certified, customized and cool: If you haven't grabbed one already, be sure to nab your very own certified Expert Badge and show off your skills on your personal blog or website. All the cool kids are doing it!

A Place To Call Home

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An editor by trade, a writer by avocation and an Expert by some cosmic practical joke, ericpete puts together the newsletter for Experts Exchange.

Searching is half the fun: life is much more manageable when thought of as a scavenger hunt as opposed to a surprise party. — Jimmy Buffett

The last couple of weeks -- at least from the perspective of being an occasionally snarky writer -- have been great fun. As you might have figured out, we were exceptionally pleased to see Jenn Prentice's take on the people celebrating the existence and "success" -- we use the term loosely -- of other Q&A websites that, by virtue of its owners' knowing a lot of people in the tech blogging world, are getting a lot of ink lately. We have also been pleased to see that a lot of the ... ummm... inaccuracies regarding our favorite site being the subject of corrections by people who are familiar enough with EE to be fairly experienced members. Since we have been an EE member for longer than some people would care to admit (we can't help it -- we still have questions every once in a while and EE has never failed us), we don't mind saying "thank you" to the people taking up the EE banner.

We could be pretty annoyed about a lot of what we read, but frankly, we find the whole premise laughable, because for as smart as all those bloggers and website owners are, none of them seems smart enough to do a little research. At least... we think it's just laziness; they all write about the same sites, and then they all write about the buzz all the same sites are generating, and they all read each other because they all occasionally take shots at each other (the dustup between Jason Calacanis -- who sold Weblogs to AOL for somewhere around $25 million -- and Michael Arrington -- who sold TechCrunch to AOL for somewhere around $25 million -- has been at once entertaining, whiny, self-serving and ultimately predictable. The only question now is whether Huffington Post will suffer the same fate as their two ventures did once the owner bailed.)

Off-topic: We think StartupGazette is cool, because they're honest, but we hate to think of what our father would have said had we suggested charging people to print their press releases. Happy Birthday, JP...

If there is anything that gripes us, it is that EE has been doing this longer than anyone. You can't get much earlier than 1996 for a data-driven website, especially one that made use of style sheets; both Netscape and Microsoft didn't release the third versions of their browsers until the latter part of the year. One submitted one's site to a search engine; spyders and bots that scoured the web for content were unheard of. The Q&A landscape had lots of little sites, but nobody really knew how to get people to stick around, until a few folks in San Luis Obispo did something different enough that they were able to apply for a patent: Experts Exchange.

The line between a Q&A site and a search engine has always been a little blurry. The aforementioned Mr Calacanis took a stab at it with Mahalo, as have Ask.com and Yahoo Answers (call them Q&A Land Grab 1.5). They all had the same business plan: Spend money and sell ads, and they all had the same result: it didn't work. There are a couple of reasons for that; one is that while there was a lot of advertising money being spent, it was reminiscent of what happened to the print media industry in 1960s when that new-fangled television thingy came along in that everyone wanted to try it without paying a lot of attention to whether on-line advertising was affecting the bottom line in a meaningful way.

Another was that advertising took up a lot of real estate, and people didn't like the idea of having that blinking banner ad shoved at them, so as soon as they started popping up on a site, they'd go someplace else. The third, of course, is that most of advertising dollars go toward either indirect missions like branding (think GoDaddy's commercials at the Super Bowl) or toward maintaining an existing market share (think any soft drink, fast food restaurant or automobile manufacturer). The ads themselves, except under some very specific circumstances, rarely move the revenue meter much. That being the case, advertisers tend to keep their discretionary money where they know it will do them as well as they've done in the past -- as opposed to the places where a new way of thinking might do them some good in the future... or not.

Bubbles and recessions have a funny way of reducing the size of that discretionary bankroll, so those businesses dependent on advertising dollars, like Answers.com, are now suffering the outrageous fortune of being dependent on their major supplier, which, incidentally, is changing the rules to get rid of junk.

In no small part because of the success of Facebook, we seem to have entered the Age of Q&A 2.0; everything has to be "social." Add that word to your meta-tags, and you're set to be the darling -- for a while -- of people with money. Currently, the "next big thing" is Quora; we're not quite sure where they're going, but because it was founded by two ex-Facebook employees it's already worth a billion dollars, even if sometimes it comes across as a high-rent Yahoo Answers. Based on the privacy settings and login system, it definitely wants to know what you're asking and searching for, and it wants to make sure that search engines know about it as well (the words "targeted" and "advertising" come to mind). The other new kid on the block is StackOverflow, which has also taken a good chunk of cash -- maybe not in the VC world, but certainly in ours -- in order to expand into some nice new office space in New York. We're not the only ones who frown on hypocrisy and think that any company with no plan for making money is by definition overvalued.

We also find the bandying-about of the word "community" almost embarrassing. In our travels, we have served on committees to write two community plans and watched several others being written. Those plans always looked forward, but in doing so, took into account the people who have lived in the community; for example, it's not a smart idea to take traffic off a highway that goes through a tourist town, and route it through residential neighborhoods when all of the businesses are along the highway; not only will the traffic (or lack thereof) annoy people, but there's a huge expense in infrastructure. Communities -- Del Webb notwithstanding -- don't spring to life when someone paves some streets and builds a bunch of houses that look enough alike to be the same. Communities have color and texture; they have shared experiences over time that shape their development.

Nor do they thrive because someone dumps a lot of money into them, or even because every blogger out there seems to be writing about them. There is an economic element that must go beyond hoping you can sell more ads at a higher price, and certainly beyond collecting more page views. There is a recognition of and appreciation for the relationships that over time have created a unique experience. There is an awareness that rules and systems don't just come from above; they come from those who used and continue to use the site. They have a culture.

So far, despite an eternity in the Internet world and even a few miscalculations along the way, only one site seems to have gotten it right.

More News and Notes

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Google logoThe bigger they are, the harder... There's a story about a politician who was questioned once about voting to approve a railroad line through property the railroad would then have to buy -- from him. "There's no conflict with my interests," he is reputed to have said. So it was with great interest that we read Andrew Keen's piece at TechCruch about Google and its inherent ability to manipulate search results such that they benefit Google. Keen notes what he calls the "self-congratulatory tweaks" Google made to its algorithm that will, in theory, get rid of a lot of junk we all see at the top of search results, but also points out that that isn't necessarily news; Google has been manipulating search results since Day One, and it shouldn't be much of a surprise that it is doing so still.

It is noted that others have too (thanks, Scratchy), but they eventually get caught. Google doesn't like it when you use their rules to your own advantage on a large scale.

But here's the thing. There have been any number of search engines that have dominated the landscape at one point or another: Gopher. Excite. Infoseek. Yahoo. AltaVista. Lycos. They rose (and fell) because someone else did it better. What sent Google to the top of the heap in the first place was that its results were more complete and more accurate... but that's not what really has everyone in a tizzy. Nobody would give a hoot if Google's results favored Google's services, except for one little factor: money.

That's where Google differs from every other search engine: it's profitable. Google figured out that if it took the searches people do and pay attention to them, then they could take other kinds of information (like their location from their IP address) and send them advertising. But it then went one better. Realizing that when people want to find something, that's what they're looking for so they might not buy ads, they came up with the idea of paying people a little money to put those ads on their own sites. That gave people an extra incentive to use Google as a search engine -- which gave Google more opportunities to sell more ads. By the time anyone realized what was happening, Brin and Page were two of the wealthiest men on the planet.

But having that much influence (they don't control whether people use their search system; nobody is forcing anyone to type google.com instead of bing.com) comes at a price. Since it's reasonable that they like the fact that they're making gazillions of dollars, it's reasonable that they'll do whatever they think is necessary to keep things that way. You wouldn't expect the CEO of Ford to drive a Toyota, and even if he happens to like the way the new Camry looks, he's going to give you all kinds of reasons why his product is better. But when you get to the point where you're the only game in town ... then what? For most people, you begin to think that you know better than others what is best.

Google is exhibiting a bit of that, but not really as much as one might expect; one sees a lot more of it from other companies (Apple and Oracle come to mind), and perhaps it's because Google is being run by two people, not one. The real problem is with everyone else; everyone loves a winner except for the people getting beaten. So Google is getting flak from the European Union because it's better at what it does than a French company that builds vertical search sites, claiming that to make money, they have to use Google's technology. No, they don't. They could build their own and make it better.

Google is also hearing about it from US regulators regarding its prooposed acquisition of ITA, because it will a supplier of content (on which it will make some money). Notable opponents are all competitors; they all want someone to do something so they don't have to build a better mousetrap themselves.

There's one outfit that probably does have Googleplex a little concerned (despite some common ground): Facebook. We're not convinced Facebook is the be-all and end-all (in case you hadn't noticed). We think their relatively slipshod attitude toward privacy is an opening big enough to drive a bus through. We think it's just a few screwups away from becoming the next AOL. We think it's one thing to take on a sore losers, and quite another to get into a catfight with the big boys. But there's something to be said for the chutzpah of Mark Zuckerberg (or the naivete), since he's already done something no one thought possible: He out-faced (pardon the pun) Rupert Murdoch.

For all you old-timers: The headline says it all. Anyone seen jackorama lately?

That didn't take long: You didn't hear a peep about this a couple of weeks ago when AOL shelled out $315 million for Huffington Post, but it didn't take long for the door to start revolving. First out the door was David Eun, the president of AOL Media (disclosure: TechCrunch is owned by AOL), barely a year after joining AOL from Google. Also joining the exodus were Paul Miller and Ross Miller of Engadget.

Everyone loves a good train wreck: It's been a couple of weeks since the folks from Anonymous, best known for taking down the websites of companies trying to cut of the revenue stream of Wikileaks, posted an "open letter" to the folks from the Westboro Baptist Church, a little congregation that has made a name for itself by demonstrating at the funerals of soldiers killed in combat. David Pakman, who has a syndicated television and radio show, hit the Mother Lode last week when he had representatives of both organizations on at the same time; during the interview, while Shirley Phelps-Roper from the church was saying that Anonymous couldn't hack their websites, they did just that. On a related matter, the group raising funds for the soldier who first handed over information to Wikileaks that got Anonymous galvanized in the first place has had its PayPal account frozen. If that doesn't tell you why it's called a web, nothing will.

Non-person of the week: US Ambassador Jon Huntsman has been turned into a non-person by the Chinese. Then again, they're getting a handle on their spam problem.

This is a test: Those crazy kids at MIT -- what will they think of next? One of the writers -- a behavioral scientist -- for their Technology Review reposted a "new fun study" that says "click the button" -- except there's no button, which, in and of itself has some interesting behavioral consequences. If you click on the "Comments", you go to the original site, where there is a button. Speaking of tests, the New York Times has an entertaining piece on mind games, and a test you can take to see how good you are.

Maybe these are dumb questions, but... We get it that Google isn't really powered by algorithms, but rather by the prejudices of the people who write algorithms. And we get it that Google's most recent algorithm change is directed at content farms that don't produce original content, but just republish someone else's stuff -- was targeted at a company that, apparently, wasn't affected (except on the stock market). So... first, what's going to happen to answers.com, which gets something like 90 per cent of its revenue from Google ads? And second, given all of AOL's acquisitions, does its absorbtion of Huffington Post turn it into one big content farm? And what about Yahoo? Because everyone knows what happens when you get bought by them.

Okay, so maybe we owe AT&T an apology... NOT: Consumer Reports said last week that Verizon's version of the iPhone is having the same problem with dropped calls that Ma Bell had. No word from Apple about whether Steve Jobs will authorize giving away more covers because he wasn't at the shareholders' meeting last week. Apple wasn't the only big company having trouble with phones, though; an update to Microsoft's Windows 7 phone created problems for one in ten users.

Service pack for Windows 7: The first Windows 7 service pack is now available. Hurry while supplies last, batteries not included.

Sign of the Apocalypse: Muammar Qaddafi is blaming Osama bin Laden for his problems, and The Chronicles of Rick Roll.

Nata's Corner

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Nata's PictureMy first item is what most of us would think of as an "ooops", but because it involves Facebook, it's probably something they did quite deliberately. Facebook does allow you to browse through its pages securely; it's a setting in your account details. And there are some games that you might use (okay, so I have this one friend who keeps one-upping me) that aren't part of the secure site. Facebook gives you this nice warning that says you're going to navigate away from the secure portion of the site, and if you click continue, as expected, the URL changes from https to http. But what they don't tell you is that when you navigate away from a secure page, Facebook also changes your security settings -- and if you're not paying attention, you're going to wind up like my brother, getting all kinds of spam because he made the mistake of clicking on a picture of Kim Kardashian. Another interesting curiousity is that I haven't been able to figure out yet now to get IE8 to keep me logged in. I don't really mind that so much -- but it does make you wonder what's going on with their cookie. Anyway, to reset your secure browsing, go to Account ==> Account Settings ==> Account Security.

This goes beyond an "ooops". The New York City hospital system had about 1.7 million people's records stolen from its management services vendor back in December, but they have only in the last couple of weeks gotten around to notifying all the people whose addresses, social security numbers, medical records, telephone numbers and health insurance information was taken. And it wasn't just patients; it was also vendors, staff and anyone else that had pretty much anything to do with the system. So far, there isn't any indication that the data has been used because the thieves would need special equipment and software to read it -- but we all know that hackers can be pretty ingenious when it comes to data taken out of a truck with the words "GRM Information Management Services" painted on the sides. (Thanks, Bev!)

I had an item last issue about Intuit's system for accepting credit card payments over a cell phone, but it turns out they're not the only one. One of the founders of Twitter has started a new company called Square that does pretty much the same thing as Intuit's system does, but with a twist, because it's the only company (at the moment, anyway) that has tried to make being able to accept credit cards simple. If you have ever run a business, most of the time, all you really know is that a pretty big chuck of change is subtracted from your credit card deposit receipts every month -- so maybe they're on to something. I'm still not sure I like the idea of handing my credit card over to some kid with a cell phone -- but we'll see whether this actually takes off.

I think we might have mentioned it last year when it came out, but there's a freely-available program out there that lets someone see what's happening on your wireless network if you don't have it protected. So take care to make sure you put up some security, and don't do any business at an unsecured internet cafe.

Finally, if you happen to get your phone or mp3 player a little wet, put it in a bowl of uncooked white rice. Leave it covered for a couple of days, and the rice should absorb the moisture. Check it after a day to see if it works, and then again after two. You can also look for a red sticker that is used as an indicator on your Blackberry (and similar devices). The sticker turns red when it gets wet, and that's an indication your warranty is void. Of course, you can always duck into a doorway before you answer your cell in a rainstorm, too.


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New Geniuses: There is awe-inspiring, and then there's something beyond that, a level of achievement that can only be described as angelIII, who earned his eleventh Genius certificate (he also has a Savant certificate) in Active Server Pages. Earning his fourth Genius certificate was demazter in Windows 2008 Server. woolmilkporc in Unix operating systems and RobSampson in Scripting Languages were the second Genius certificates for each. Gaining their first 1,000,000 point t-shirts were momi_sabag in DB2 and captainreiss in Adobe Acrobat. Well done by all!


  • peter57r is the 23rd member of Experts Exchange to earn 10,000,000 points overall. He holds four Genius certificates.
  • mplungjan's 7,000,000 points in JavaScript are the most earned by any member in that TA.
  • Chris-Dent has earned 2,000,000 points in each of three topic areas. Only five other members of EE have accomplished that feat.
  • alanhardisty reached the 6,000,000 point level overall.
  • Gertone has earned 4,000,000 points in the XML topic area. He has had the highest percentage of accepted solutions out of questions participated for three years running.
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arnoldApple OSMaster
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carl_tawnMisc ProgrammingMaster
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digitapSoftware FirewallsMaster
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woolmilkporcUnix OSGenius
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jppintoVB ScriptMaster
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erikTsomikWeb ApplicationsMaster
Ray_PaseurWeb Dev SoftwareMaster
DaveBaldwinWeb Languages/StandardsMaster
amichaellWindows 2003 ServerMaster
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