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Your Technology Problems...SOLVED

MAY 25, 2011


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

Nata's Corner
PlayStation, reunions, cigarettes and free XBoxes

Tip From The Mods
Is all that griping really worth the hassle?

Sense: Software ≠ Business
Knowing one isn't knowing the other

More News and Notes
The First Amendment is easy by comparison

Who did what through May 21


So who won the iPad? E037600 is the winner of Experts Exchange's "Like" EE, Score an iPad contest. Her response when informed: "Thank you so much. I really enjoy Experts Exchange. I've utilized it for many years, even paying for it out of my own expenses because of the great solutions I've found there. I like how Experts Exchange has expanded and grown over the past few years. I appreciate the opportunity Experts Exchange created for me to win this. I'm excited to receive it." Congratulations, and remember: mobile.e-e.com.

Hall of Fame: As of a week or so ago, it now takes more than 4,000,000 points to reach the Experts Exchange Hall of Fame. Special notice is taken of scrathcyboy, whose eighth anniversary as a member is tomorrow.

The Social Network: Experts Exchange has enlisted your humble editor, ericpete (@Eric_Pete), and one of his most diligent contributors, jason1178 (@jasonclevine), to team up with staffers st3rlin9 (@N4T4Li3), jennhp (@JennPrentice) and G-Warren (@gwonk) to take the message of EE beyond the boundaries of its current shores. Look for all of us, along with the EE staff accounts -- @ExpertsExchange and @EE_Cares -- coming soon to a Twitter feed near you. You should also keep an eye on mplungjan's tweets as @EEvangelist.

From the In-box: skirklan, who loves her Mac, wrote regarding our article on loving your work: "That article you wrote on Matthew Stewart's "The Management Myth" is one of my favorites. I read it twice so I could remember it better. Steve Jobs doesn't have to duck anything because he's on sick leave recovering from . . . whatever. I hate getting into people's personal business. If the President has piles; it's just something I don't need to know about."

We also got a very kind email from younghv on the same article: "I can't begin to recall how many times I've been asked for advice about careers, jobs, working -- and my only response (for the past 20 years or so) has always been: "If you don't love your work -- get a different job". Great article." Thanks, Vic!

Kudos: People have offered (or promised) all kinds of things to Experts who have helped them, but mwvisa1 was on the receiving end of something special from lrbrister for solving a problem with consolidating SQL inserts: "This is the kind of answer that is "over the top" helpful. Example with explanation. Remind me to buy you a sody-pop sometime!"

kurajesh couldn't solve a problem with an unwanted "tweaking" utility, but got some help from rpggamergirl, who didn't seem at all offended by the erroneous gender assignment: "guys, thanks a lot for your suggestions, in fact the post by 'rpggamergirl' helped me to remove the windows tweaking tool and it helped me really. thanks a ton dude."

The Moderators get asked fairly frequently to evaluate and even change the answer selected by an Asker (see this issue's tip for more) as in the question from -m03dinhas- regarding enabling SNMP. Modalot posted in the question, and got this reply: "Thank you for your comment. Much appreciated. I did feel that marking my post as the solution was the right thing to do, but also wanted to avoid creating a "bad vibe" within the community, and for that I apologize. Thank you for stepping in and help do the right thing, it feels good to know you guys do monitor these threads which just shows how credible and useful this forum really is." Thank you, Joao; it's comments like yours that cause us to show up every day.

Tip From The Moderators

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Lately, we seem to be getting more frequent requests from Experts to have us "take a look at" the solution selected by an Asker. Rather than list a whole bunch of rules that we would have to spend a ton of time enforcing, we think it a little more friendly to offer the following suggestions:

  • Remember, the goal is to solve the Asker's problem. If someone else has taken your one-sentence answer and has given the Asker a complete explanation of what's going on and how the suggestion solves the problem, that is the better answer.
  • If you have been an Expert on the site for any length of time, there has been at least one instance where you gave what you knew was a mediocre or half-baked answer and got awarded points over a better answer. Did you complain about that? Or did you take the points and run? Consider it the world's way of evening the tote board.
  • There are lots more questions to answer. Is it worth all the angst just because someone else got the points?
  • Yes, the PAQ is important -- but do you really want to have your reputation as an Expert colored by the fact that you gripe about every time someone else gets the "Good Answer" email?

We don't really like calling people out for behaving in a manner that is... call it "unprofessional". You can help; instead of worrying about whether you have gotten every point you earned, you'll find your EE experience a lot more enjoyable if you just move on the the next question -- and help that person.

Sense: Software ≠ Business

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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.

We recently read with some amusement a Reddit question-and-answer session with Joel Spolsky, one of the co-founders of stackoverflow.com -- a nice little site that has gotten a lot of good press for two reasons: 1) Mr Spolsky and his co-founder have made names for themselves by blogging about a lot of stuff and 2) they started off by calling themselves the "anti-Experts-Exchange" -- which is fine as long as they spell the name right and get their facts straight.

Up to a point, though, we have a certain amount of respect for Mr Spolsky; in fairness, he usually tries to be relatively accurate, which can't necessarily be said for his partner. Indeed, in the Reddit piece, he said a few things we actually agree with and/or admire. For example, the other company he co-founded, Fog Creek Software, is employee-owned; while he and the other co-founder receive more money than the rest of the staff (the other guy gets more than Mr Spolsky), everyone shares in the profits. That's cool. His cut is adjusted downward if he spends the bulk of his time not working for Fog Creek; that's cool, too. We're not so impressed with the emphasis on seniority; we don't think someone should make more money just for showing up every day, but we will assume (it's not addressed) that productivity and quality reviews are built into the system somewhere.

We had to laugh a little at Mr Spolsky's critique of Reddit. He doesn't mind that people can go off on tangents (there's a post about hedge funds that seems to have been posted solely for the benefit of the person who posted it); he minds that people then vote things up or down and think that they've done their part to make the world better. One wonders if the opinions of one programmer's buddies make that programmer's code better -- but that's being cheeky.

We don't disagree with a portion of Mr Spolsky's response to a "what if" question about his hypothetically replacing Steve Ballmer at Microsoft. A few weeks ago, we wrote about why companies like Cisco, Apple and Google are perceived as being the shining stars of the tech industry; Microsoft was glaring in its omission from the list. There are any number of reasons for it, but foremost is that Mr Ballmer's vision of the world ends at any door that has the ubiquitous four-color logo on it. For any number of reasons -- the quad-colored glasses he views the world with, his infamous temper when anything Microsoft does is questioned, the generally lackluster, buggy products his company produces (when it doesn't just buy or imitate them), and the company's position behind the curve in so many arenas -- it's pretty clear that he has no vision other than keeping the company making a dividend. Microsoft is a money company to Mr Ballmer, it seems; the software and services are means to an end.

We suspect Mr Spolsky couldn't do any worse. We're convinced that he does like to build good (and maybe even great) software, and we'll even grant that his stated vision ("making the world a better place") for both his software company and his website company can't be argued with. We do think that he should add a qualifier ("... for programmers and developers we like..."), but someone's gotta do it while the rest of us just solve people's problems.

We're not so sure we would spin off companies; for one thing, we're not so sure that without the money Microsoft gets from the remaining products would be enough to satisfy the stockholders... unless, of course, Microsoft becomes a holding company for what's left, in which case why bother. We can't see why Microsoft decided to make gaming devices, so spinning that off makes some sense (except that it is probably accounting for more profit per unit sold than any other product). Bing is the same thing; it's a product developed for all the wrong reasons. Microsoft is -- at its core -- a software company. It makes machines work, and even if one allows for the occasional screwup (Vista, Bob, ME) what is undeniable is that it has managed to position itself where it is STILL the dominant operating system and business software provider. Products that dovetail with that core function are good; products that don't are distracting from the mission.

More to the point, Microsoft's corporate DNA won't allow it to spin off companies. Microsoft acquires; its growth is dependent on being the tech equivalent of WalMart. It's not a matter of providing the best products; it's a matter of being the company from which you can get every product you might want so nobody else will try to get into the marketplace (or more accurately, so it can compete in markets where other people have been making money for some time; Microsoft is always playing catch-up). The downside is that the corporate vision is always looking to expand through assimilation; that didn't work for Rome either. At least Faceborg acquires in order to get a company's engineers; the products of an acquired company are generally secondary.

Mr Spolsky would also bring back towels in the locker room. That makes sense. If you're going to bother with the locker room -- it keeps the employees on site, as opposed to heading to the gym during lunch -- then cutting the towel budget is sending the wrong message. Mr Spolsky's comment that he would send out a memo entiled "Shrimp, not Weenies", though, is just as bad. We find it a little disconcerting that Reed Hastings, the CEO of Netflix, sits on Microsoft's board of directors, considering Mr Hastings' company is almost the antithesis of Microsoft. Netflix just pays well -- above market rate for a position. You perform, or you find someplace else to work. Having a nice chair with the best equipment doesn't make a mediocre programmer significantly better -- just more comfortable.

We would definitely not hire anyone whose vocabulary includes the phrase "Well, actually." Mr Spolsky said that budding programmers should learn microeconomics and to write in English, but we'll go one better: in addition to demerits for "well, actually", there are demerits for overused insider phrases too. We figure that if you can't say what you mean using simple terms, you probably can't program very elegantly either.

There were a few questions Mr Spolsky decided to skip; there were a few he answered that were pretty self-serving (notably the ones from people looking for jobs, because they gave him an excuse to post the link to his site), which is fine. One question he didn't skip was on the user experience; "at Fog Creek there are two people who focus on that (and everybody else pays close attention to user experience)," he wrote. "At Stack Overflow we rely on you, the community, to tell us how to build the product. Sometimes that works. Sometimes, not so much."

Interestingly, the one failure Mr Spolsky cited (the use of OpenID) was a suggestion strongly supported by his partner; in a practical sense, the OpenID "solution" was one that existed before the "problem" existed. So when the community "suggested" its use, there was a predisposition to incorporate it, whether it was a good idea or not. One can only wonder -- given the history of the StackOverflow team to bash EE's experience without ever having experienced it -- how much Experts Exchange has influenced what the site does. After all, it's making the same mistake EE made 14 years ago by taking venture capital money: a free site doesn't pencil out financially.

It's not a mistake to listen to one's customers. It is, however, a mistake to do everything they tell you. There is nobody who really knows what other people think; you might be able to make educated guesses -- as long asy you remember that they're just guesses. (That's why no company should tolerate an Idea guy. Never mind that TIG can't really do anything; he just keeps coming up with useless or overly-complicated things for the rest of you to do. Of course, if he's also the boss, everyone is in trouble.) You just can't trust what people say; for one thing, they don't always know what they want. Usually, it's a feature that doesn't take into account Unintended Consequences; sure, the car comes with a DVD player in view of the driver, and hey, that's really neat, but it's not a very good idea for the Bay Bridge commute. Just as often, it can wind up being something that conflicts with your own mission, and the result is what the Marketeers would call a "negative user experience" -- and a lot of extra work for you.

In the end, one can only depend on what people do -- how they use your site. If they use a system, it is because it works; if they don't, then there are only three reasons: Your users don't want it, don't need it, or it doesn't work. The causes for that are legion; a button might be in the wrong place, or the solution that you have devised may be more clunky than the original problem, or the metrics you're looking at might be irrelevant, or your background colors clash, or your instructions are more confusing than the US tax code... or it may just be a bad idea.

There are, it seems, executives like Mr Ballmer, who lives, breathes and sleeps Microsoft. One can admire his devotion to his company; one can only marvel that his perception of his company isn't close to that of even the people who use its software every day. There are people like Mr Spolsky and his partner, who sees a slice of the pie from the perspective of those who want to solve problems -- but not from those who need the problems solved. And then there is Mr Hastings, who sees a need for a service and then finds the best, brightest, most productive people he can to help him provide the service the customers need.

Whatever the case, if you intend to be successful beyond the level of six per cent annual increases in revenue, you have to remember who is paying the bill. Hint: It's not you.

More News and Notes

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And you thought that whole First Amendment thing was tricky: For those of you who think you should be able to say what you want when you want and all that, please read the link. It says that the US government can't stop you -- and doesn't say that anyone else has to give you a forum (see: A. J. Liebling). Now -- forget everything you've learned, because as a public service, we're going to give you a short course in British privacy law, all because someone used Twitter to do exactly what Twitter is set up to do.

The British privacy law allows both persons and corporations to be granted, by the courts, "super-injunctions" -- an order that prohibits the publication of anything that invades the petitioner's privacy; the reasoning is that, for example, the children of some ne'er-do-well member of Parliament shouldn't be dragged through the mud if the MP is caught stealing from the public. In practice, companies have been able to get away with murder (that's an expression, not an accusation), and more to the point, can file lawsuits against anyone who either reports on the misdeeds or reports on the existence of the gag order.

Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago, when a Twitter user posted half a dozen tweets naming celebrities with the super-injunctions (which, of course, spawned a couple of imitators, a defender and a blog). It also spawned a lawsuit against Twitter. Even The Register -- which "bites the hand that feeds IT" -- sidestepped publishing names, but pointed out that Twitter has no presence in Great Britain.

Daytripper: It took nearly thirty years for Apple -- the computer company -- to finally settle a lawsuit brought against it by Apple -- the Beatles' recording company, in which the computer company was alleged to have infringed on the recording company's trademarked name, so one would think that Steve Jobs wouldn't go around accusing people of stealing trademarks of commonly used generic abbreviations like "app". We know that Mr Jobs is a bit on the obsessive side, but you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who would confuse the Amazon site and that of Apple, and it's the pettiness of the lawsuit that reminds us of one of Microsoft's patents.

Happy Birthday, Bikini and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

You've been a baaaaaaad boy, Markie: If you're going to try to smear someone, Rule Number One is "Don't get caught." Unfortunately, if you're a Harvard dropout and you're taking on a couple of PhD candidates from Stanford, you probably will get caught, especially if they know how to find things. Oh... and Rule Number Two? Never use a PR firm to do your dirty work. And from the same file, the US Secret Service's Twitter account wasn't impressed with Fox News.

If you're on this list, we want to hear from you: FastCompany's 100 Most Creative People In Business. Particularly compelling: Chief Almir.

What is the sound of a bubble being blown? Here we go again, folks. LinkedIn had its initial public offering of stock last week, and after the dust settled Friday, was worth about $9 billion -- on paper. Not bad for a company that made a whopping $15 million in profit last year; that's a price-earnings ratio of about 584:1. In case you're keeping score, Google is at around 20:1 and Apple is at about 16:1. Expect a "correction".

Best gag of the week: The fake coal company website.

Back-scratching pays off: Be it beyond us to suggest that there's anything wrong with a member of the FCC that voted to okay the merger of Comcast and NBC being given a lobbyist's job by Comcast. After all, it was fine when the cable TV industry's lobbying organization hired the former chairman of the FCC just a couple of months ago.

It's not evil; it's just beating them into submission: Google is not above playing hardball when it comes to dealing with competitors. Shades of Microsoft and Apple.

Man bites dog: In a little bit of a turnaround, the people at Zediva, a company that has a novel system for streaming new release movies, has filed a countersuit against the lovely parasites known as the MPAA. The MPAA had sued Zediva a month ago, saying that the company was infringing on copyrights; Zediva's countersuit says that it's not doing anything that your local video store doesn't do. In a related matter, at least two California politicians have decided that the RIAA should be exempt from the Constituion when it comes to the 4th Amendment. Expect Google to ... ummm ... lobby against it pretty heavily. And lest anyone think that Congress isn't immune to the entreaties of the the movie and recording industries, there's the new legislation that will let the RIAA and MPAA decide which websites the ISPs can let exist.

"I'll alert the media": In a stunning revelation certain to revitalize the woefully out-of-date dead trees newspaper industry, the New York Times reported last week that "journalists must rethink their relationships -- and their audiences' relationships -- with advertisers." While they're at it, they might consider rethinking their relationships with their audience, since they've been missing the boat on this whole Interwebs thingy for about twenty years now.

Make it up on the volume? The publisher of an e-book application has decided that Apple's rules -- which require that the publisher give not just a percentage of the receipts from the sale of the app, but also a percentage of the receipts of books sold through the app -- ain't worth the hassle.

Signs of the Apocalypse: If you're reading this someone goofed up the math. But there are a number of other signs:

Nata's Corner

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Nata's PictureThe last time we came to your inbox, the big news was that Sony had shut down its PlayStation Network because someone had hacked into the network. As of Friday afternoon, the PlayStation store was still off line, though it was supposed to be back up yesterday, and there was still a note on the PlayStation site that says "Some services on PlayStation.com may be unavailable due to phased restoration of PlayStation® Network." But that's not what got my attention at the end of the week; instead, it was a note about LastPass, a company that has a password and online form manager. LastPass engineers noticed "a network traffic anomaly for a few minutes from one of our non-critical machines." Unlike Sony, LastPass notified its users immediately, and started posting notifications and updates. Now, as it turns out, it doesn't look like anyone's data was compromised -- but what is important is how the company responded to its users' needs. Sony, please take notes.

I'm not much on class reunions. Part of the reason, I guess, is because my family moved around a lot when I was younger, so I didn't spend my teen years building everlasting friendships with people that were classmates of mine. My other half sees people he went to school with almost every day. So I was kind of interested in a story that wonders if Facebook is killing off reunions because everyone is able to keep in touch. I kind of liked the wisecrack about AARP at the end of it until I saw that The Onion was writing more or less the same thing. Ever since the five-bladed razor became a reality, I've learned that you shouldn't discount what The Onion has to say.

Recently, I was introduced to the latest -- or rather, what I thought was the latest, based on the amount of spam email I have been getting about them -- electronic device to hit the market: electronic cigarettes, like the one Johnny Depp's character used in The Tourist. That's actually not really the latest. Now, you can get a little case for the non-cigarette cigarettes that will tell you if there are other e-smokers around.

In the "recent threats" category, CERT issued a warning about some Active-X flaws in software built by Iconics, which makes systems used by utilities and manufacturers for process controls. When the story got posted to Slashdot, the story got better: "Hell, I used to embed Active-X controls in Excel docs, mixed up with a good bit of VB. My way of paying back that employer for sub-par wages ;)" There's also yet another fake defragger out there, and Sophos recently posted a white paper on fake anti-virus software.

Finally, if you're one of those people looking for an excuse to buy a new computer and need to get a graduation present for someone, take Microsoft up on its offer of a free XBox with the purchase of a Windows 7 machine.


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New Geniuses: Three members of Experts Exchange have earned their first Genius certificates. wesly_chen earned his Genius certificate in Linux; jppinto earned his in Microsoft Excel; and hanccocka picked up his in VMWare. Outstanding work!


Expert In Topic Area Certificate
iHadi.NET ProgrammingMaster
king2002.NET ProgrammingMaster
nepaluz.NET ProgrammingMaster
BillDenverAccess FormsMaster
Jmoody10Active DirectoryGuru
pwindellActive DirectoryGuru
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pratima_mcsMisc DatabasesMaster
virmaiorMisc DatabasesMaster
QlemoMisc NetworkingGuru
asavenerMisc NetworkingMaster
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NicoboMS AccessMaster
roryaMS AccessWizard
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apeterMS DevelopmentMaster
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jppintoMS ExcelGenius
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spaperovMS Virtual ServerMaster
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wilcoxonShell ScriptingMaster
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