Experts Exchange EE News May 2009

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May 27, 2009 >>

What's New at Experts Exchange
Page Editors, Geniuses and Kudos

Hacking and cracking questions
ModernMatt and aikimark offer advice

Google In The Crosshairs
Face it: they're better at it than everyone else

More News and Notes
Out to rule the [virtual] world

Nata's Corner
Talking, texting... and [shudder] driving

New Certificates
New certificate holders, through May 23

What's New at Experts Exchange

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Page Editors:: We promised you a list, so here you are:

Managing / Copy Editor
Programming, Databases
Web Development
Programming / Developer
Programming / OS
Networking / Security
Digital Living
Networking / Hardware
Software / Web Development
Programming / OS
Web Development
Microsoft / Software
Web Development
Virus/Spyware / Security
Hardware / Networking
Programming / OS
Networking / OS
ITPro / Other
Programming / OS

New Geniuses: matthewspatrick has earned his fourth Genius certificate, in MS SQL Server. sdstuber's third Genius ranking comes in the PL /SQL zone. Becoming only the second Experts Exchange member to earn 1,000,000 points in the FoxPro Database zone is CaptainCyril, while honmapog became the first to reach that level in Backup Exec. Thanks for all your great contributions!


  • Site Administrator Computer101, who just past the eight-year mark as a member of the Moderating team at Experts Exchange, also celebrated his 50th birthday recently in part by coordinating a concert by Gary Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band. Nice work, old man!
  • angelIII became the first member of EE to go over 2,000,000 points in each of five zones.
  • capricorn1 has earned 12,000,000 points in the Access zone. He also has 2,000,000 points in each of three zones.
  • Idle_Mind has gone over 2,000,000 points in each of two zones.
  • rockiroads has earned 6,000,000 points in the MS Access zone.

jimpen helped answer blockmental's question about HIPAA, the US legislation regarding health insurance, and was rewarded with this comment:

I'm always amazed at the lengths to which people such as yourself will go to on this forum to explain things... and especially when it comes to non-techies wrestling with unfamiliar issues. Again, many thanks for confirming/validating what the data center engineers were suggesting.

jimpen also received an Assist, helping out with capricorn1's solution to chris2009's question about updating some Access code:

I received exceptional help with this issue. I plan to use this site in the future and hope that future experts respond as quickly and effectively as both experts did with my issue. Nothing but high remarks!

rpggamergirl answered ronhicks22207's question about the Vundo trojan and received this as a closing comment:

This is by far the most impressive help I've ever received, at this or any other helpsite. I'm truly awestruck that you knew what to do so immediately and so completely. Thank you is so inadequate to express my appreciation. I'd award 5000 points if that were possible.

She was also on the receiving end when niarb_innel closed out his question on some issues with Firefox:

"Hey guys this lady is kicking your butts!!!"

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Tips From the Moderators

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We usually use this space to advise people on what to do right, be it staying active in your questions or closing your questions when you have an answer (lest you incur the Wrath Of Vee_Mod and his Band Of Moderators, but some of us have been at this for quite a while, and we thought we would pass along some of the reasons why, if only so maybe you will come to enjoy it as much as we do.

You might learn something. Nobody knows everything -- not even angelIII (though sometimes it seems like he does). Almost everyone who finds Experts Exchange does so because s/he is trying to find an answer; in the process of answering questions, don't lose that desire to learn.

Everyone needs a hand once in a while. The people who ask questions usually -- not always, maybe, but usually -- haven't been able to find a solution to their problem, and they're turning to you for some help. Try to keep that in mind when you're writing out your comments, including those you make in reference to the suggestions made by other Experts. You never know when you might need that person's assistance.

Experts Exchange is a kick, so have some fun. As noted above, some of us (most notably Computer101, Netminder and especially Lunchy) have spent a lot of hours trying to help members, and it is still something we enjoy doing, mostly because we get to deal with a lot of bright, interesting people while watching Experts Exchange grow and evolve.

This has become our home away from (and even at) home; it's a remarkable site, and there are a lot of special, talented folks around. Welcome.

Hacking and cracking questions

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ModernMatt is one of Experts Exchange's Moderators, and aikimark is a Zone Advisor in a number of programming zones. They became involved in a question that involved what they perceived to be the cracking of a database, and wrote up some guidelines for members when answering questions that might involve malicious or illegal activity.

The troubling aspect of these types of crack questions is if they are properly phrased, we wouldn't know they were leading to cracks. For instance, if the questioner had asked a general question about getting registry data and used a general key as an example, we would be none the wiser. If the questioner then asked a different question about byte-to-character string conversions, we probably wouldn't know his motives. If the questioner then asked a third question about hashing a string, neither he nor any of the experts commenting on any of the discussion threads would be violating the terms of service of the game in question.

The red flag was raised when the questioner used the online game's registry key as an example (fairly self-incriminating in and of itself) and a subsequent Google search indicated that these three keys were related to the game password. In fact, the initial Google search wasn't even related to the game's keys. It just popped up in the results. These are the most common indicators of a cracking or hacking question:

  • Extending the use of software beyond the demo/trial period
  • Enabling features to which they are not legally entitled (enabled or licensed)
  • Reverse engineering licensing methods
  • Creating software that will unlock software
  • Generating unlock keys for others
  • Selling unlocked software -- think Microsoft CDs in Asia
  • Subverting program protection software

When ModernMatt questioned the motives of the Asker, we got no response, which caused him to write to the game manufacturer; the response he received indicated that the question was most certainly about cracking the system, so the question was deleted. So we want to offer the following suggestions to Experts who find themselves looking at what might be a hacking or cracking question:

  • Ask. Find out what the asker is trying to accomplish, and what his intentions are; if you don't get an answer, then it is probably best to avoid answering the question.
  • If you think you have come across such a question, use the Request Attention button to get the Moderators and Zone Advisors involved. You might be right or you might be wrong, but either way, we don't want to delete the question after points have been awarded, and we don't want Experts Exchange to become known as a haven for people who would violate someone's terms of service. And don't wait to do it; this situation was a mess, because we ended up with EULA-breaching material remaining on the site for longer than it needed to because Experts were involved and did not say anything.
  • Look for references to registry settings, decryption and software titles. If someone has a legitimate copy of Adobe InDesign or Valve Half-Life, then they won't need this information because they can get it from the manufacturer.
  • Don't pick a fight. For one thing, it doesn't do anyone any good to falsely accuse someone of something that might not be the case; for another, the Zone Advisors and Moderators are trained and have the tools to deal with the situation appropriately. We would rather you bother us and then take a back seat than have you become part of the problem in a thread.

The Zone Advisors may temporarily remove posts until the matter is resolved; don't be offended, because it is mostly to help keep your reputation intact, as well as Experts Exchange's. If you are an Expert, it is easy enough -- if the question is asked carefully -- for you to be fooled into giving out information best left unwritten.

Google In The Crosshairs

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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.

"Those who have some means think that the most important thing in the world is love. The poor know that it is money." -- Gerald Brenan

Google has been taking a lot of flak lately; we'd be a little surprised if founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, not to mention CEO Eric Schmidt, didn't wake up about half the time wondering who painted concentric circles on their shirts. After all, what'd they do? Besides invent a nice little search engine that is easy to use, works, and makes them gazillions of dollars, that is?

By way of recapping, here's a probably-incomplete list:
The US department of justice cast a wary eye on Google's ad deal with Yahoo and hasn't stopped looking, kind of like a sophomore who has the homecoming queen say hello to him.
The Environmental Protection Agency smells -- something, but it rhymes with dines -- as it looks at a refrigerant leak at one of Google's facilities.
Debt-ridden newspaper companies are bent out of shape because Google is making the money the publishers think they should get -- had they not fallen in love with the ad revenue checks, not to mention the traffic they were getting.
Its competitors in the advertising broker business -- Microsoft, Yahoo, AOL and who knows how many others -- aren't going away without a fight. (A slightly off-topic note: the one media company that seems to "get it" is, believe it or not, AOL, which is hiring refugees from other media like there's no tomorrow.) This comes on the heels of finally getting the book publishers off their backs (except for the matter of those DoJ lawyer types).
Privacy advocates are turning up the heat on Google's health system -- and who knows how long it will take doctors to buy into it; instead of boxes of paper, a medical history could be stored on a flash drive. (A slightly off-topic note: do a search on Google for the title of the first article in this bullet point, and you'll see right away why the newspaper folks hate Google.) And both Germany and Greece want street-level views removed from Google's maps and earth systems.
The Internet gods sent Google a little reminder of who is really the boss. Too bad they didn't send a better writer to explain what happened. That was followed up with another, less-severe outage. No doubt that the impact of no Gmail caused a lot of glee in Redmond -- not that Microsoft could do any better.
And then there's YouTube, which will probably always have issues with one video media producer or another.

Still, the bottom line is that Google does what it does better than its competitors do. While its core function -- being a search engine -- has been successful, its other ventures haven't necessarily been -- which makes it just like lots of other big companies (Ford survived the Edsel, Microsoft survived Windows ME, and Apple survived Steve Jobs' absence -- twice -- not to mention the Lisa).

That doesn't make it a "conspiracy in restraint of trade" or "anti-competitive"; rather, it makes it the tech world's equivalent of any one of the NBA's best teams in history. There are any number of companies whose place atop the scoreboard is barely a memory: WordStar, Lotus 1-2-3, dBase and Netscape all come to mind. Sooner or later, someone will figure out how to out-Google Google, and you'll start seeing stories similar to the ones we're seeing today about Internet Explorer.

We spent enough time in the advertising business to know what items on the average P&L statement get whacked during a recession. Google will most certainly survive, just as newspapers survived countless downturns -- until something that worked better and cost less came along.

More News and Notes

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Out to rule the [virtual] world: The Obama administration, making good on a promise during the election campaign, has rolled out some initiatives for some transparency in the way the government operates (here's a partial list). There's also money available if you feel like building an app.
The administration also got around to filling out the roster of the high level group of science and technology advisors, which, coupled with a note about a Facebook executive running for attorney general in California got us wondering about the possible political fortunes of Meg Whitman (former eBay CEO) and Carly Fiorina (former HP CEO) and what the world would be like if other tech types started getting elected. In the meantime, if there are any unemployed czars with nominal technical skills who look good behind podiums at news conferences, the White House is looking for applicants.

Ohhh... now THAT'S dirty: jimpen forwarded to us last week something he found recently: A Microsoft update that adds a vulnerability to Firefox. Now why would they do that? He's also more than a little annoyed at HDTV manufacturers.

They should have copied a Rolex: Cartier, the French jeweler, is suing Apple because of an application for the iPhone that uses a trademarked Cartier design. So much for advertising... Speaking of selling fakes, L'Oreal lost its suit against eBay over phony perfumes.

Oh yeah? Well, so's your old man: South Carolina attorney general Henry McMaster made quite a name for himself when he announced he was thinking of filing criminal charges against the founder and CEO of -- until a judge told him he couldn't. So what does CraigsList do? Demands an apology, of course.

Scoreboard: Microsoft, $200 million. Intel, $1.45 billion. Rambus, $0 (except for legal expenses).

You could look it up: We'll try to remember this when it happens, but we're scheduled to have one of our Quarterly Expert updates on July 8, so we're letting you know about this little oddity a bit early. On that day, and only in the US because of its insistence on putting the month before the date, a few hours after midnight, someone's website is going to have a clock on it that reads 04:05:06 07/08/09. (Thanks, Anita!)

There's a joke in here somewhere, just crying to get out: Over the years, we had more than our share of run-ins with the US Postal Service, and everyone has a story about a letter s/he received years after it was sent from across town or some other calamity. But the USPS has managed to outdo itself, after losing all that business to email (we got a father's day card via text message from a granddaughter last year): some Nigerian pulled a scam using information stolen from 40,000 USPS customers. Wouldn't do them much good to call the FBI, either; their network had a virus, while the IRS was simply tossing old returns out with the candy bar wrappers. Maybe that's where the National Archives should look. shows its muscle: We had an item a couple of weeks ago that noted how aficionados of had voted the site's founder as Time magazine's most influential person in the world. Those same people picked last Wednesday as the day to give Google employees plenty to look at.

Didn't anyone have a stack of bar napkins around? A casino in California had to actually resort to handing out cash when its automated payout system had some issues.

To heck with the backspace key -- how about hiding the Enter key: We learned to use a Linotype before we actually used a typewriter, but over the years, we got pretty good with it; the adage of slowing down to hurry up actually makes sense. So we imagine that the Moderators would really appreciate it if EE managed to incorporate this little program into its systems in order to cut down on the ... enthusiastic personal characterizations ... some members (thanks, Les!) inject into their posts.

Another reason why they should be called "twits": We've never seen a rant yet that could be compressed into 140 characters, and apparently, Twitter's problems a couple of weeks ago couldn't be either.

Signs of the Apocalypse: The University of Missouri's journalism school wants its incoming freshmen to bring an iTouch or iPhone to school with them, the French have passed another popular but unenforceable law and Twitter wants a TV show.

Nata's Corner

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Nata's PictureWe just got back from one of our road trips to see the family, and we saw a couple of things that were worth mentioning. First, we noticed that there didn't seem to be as many people driving down the road talking on their cell phones; maybe its all those bumper stickers. But what was disturbing was the people looking at the little screens on their cell phones, no doubt responding to Twitter messages and coming perilously close to becoming Another Roadside Statistic. Add Massachusetts to the list of states that getting around to legislating against stupidity.

Speaking of which, I've been telling people for years now to be careful about both the links you get in email and the sites you go to, and hopefully, it's put a very tiny dent in the number of people who have been scammed. What it hasn't done is slow down the scammers much, because now they're all heading to Facebook and Twitter with the kind of success you would expect them to have. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

The one thing (okay, maybe not the only thing) that really bothers me about being on the road is that at my destination, I didn't have much in the way of Internet access (so I'm spoiled by the cable access I have at home). That meant spending a lot of last weekend downloading mail -- at the same time we were dealing with sporadic dropped connections (we suspect that the router is getting tired). All of that leads me to really be frustrated with my email client (Windows Live), because it doesn't delete anything from the server until after the last email is sent -- so I wound up getting some emails five times. That's the best argument I can think of for using the somewhat clunky interface my ISP uses for its webmail. Next time, I delete all the garbage before I open up my mail.

Finally, if you have a kid who is spending way too much time online looking for mischief to get into, Uncle Sam wants him. Basic training doesn't seem to be included, though -- so don't expect the bedroom to be picked up any time soon, and it will keep them from becoming trolls. Maybe.

New Certificates

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