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EENewsletter Header -- Your Technology Problems...SOLVED

AUGUST 11, 2010


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

The Next Big ThEEng
Great ideas can win you a prize

"Chance ... and Chemistry"
ericpete on managing to culture

Who did what through August 7

Tip From The Mods
Know your Badgers

More News and Notes
Rumors of my death...

Nata's Corner
Busts, buying friends and slow computers


Giving a hand: nutsch and alanhardisty each started threads that are offers to donate the value to a charity selected by Experts Exchange. The office is working on the details, but at this writing, over 300 shirts had been pledged, so if you're interested, make your pledge.

My First Million: Members who have reached the 1,000,000 point level in July are shreedhar, dlethe, nmarun, sedgwick, gurvinder372, Firebar, DaveHowe, and Rouchie. Well done!

New Genius: Chris-Dent may be the only person who has earned a Genius certificate in the past couple of weeks, but he makes up for everyone else; the one he just earned in Powershell is his fifth. Congratulations, Chris!

Blog Log: Our colleague mc2044, known to her friends as Mary, has taken it upon herself to become EE's official Expert biographer, and has come up with some vastly entertaining items on a few of EE's best, including keith_alabaster, Netman66, mwvisa1 and webtubbs. Take a look; they're some fascinating people.

Happy Anniversary: Members who joined ten years ago and are still active include:

The Next Big ThEEng

We mentioned in our last issue the contest at Google Moderator for serious suggestions to improve Experts Exchange that features a couple of pretty special prizes, courtesy of TheLearnedOne. So far: 21 ideas from 18 members; surely someone wants one of these prizes.

TLO has donated not one, but two Visual Studio.NET Ultimate MSDN subscriptions to the people who come up with the best ideas between now and August 31; the winners will be selected from the top ten vote-getters by our crack panel of judges and announced in the September 8 issue of the EE newsletter. There is no limit to the number of entries, but we will be deleting duplicated entries and ones considered to be less than serious.

This is your chance to tell Experts Exchange what you think needs doing. Don't like the color scheme? Offer ideas for changing it. Have an idea for changing something so it works better? Post it. As long as it is a serious suggestion, it has a chance to be voted into the top ten ideas, and could be one of the two winners, selected by TLO, WhackAMod and Netminder.

There is no apparent validity to the allegation that WhackAMod is susceptible to bribery.

Typical disclaimer in teensy type made bigger so you are sure to see it: This contest is not endorsed or sponsored by Experts Exchange, Microsoft or Google, nor any of those companies' employees, owners or agents. You must be an Experts Exchange member in good standing to participate, and you must be able to comply with Microsoft's Terms of Use to receive one of the prizes. The decisions of the judges (including those related to eligibility) is final. Winners are required to provide to the judges a valid snail-mail address (so they can send you the subscription voucher); the judges reserve the right to select a different winner if you fail to provide that information in a timely manner. There is no guarantee, implied or expressed, that any idea or suggestion will ever be implemented by Experts Exchange, and in the event your idea is implemented, you have no rights to it, now or at any time in the future. It's just for fun; plus, we really do want to see what the membership at EE comes up with, and it's a way to keep two expensive MSDN subscriptions from going unused.

Register a Friend for FREE! Have a friend who knows a thing or two about technology? Have them register as an Expert at Experts Exchange for FREE! Just send them this link:

How it works:

  • New Experts can answer questions and write articles to unlock premium features such as asking questions and searching the knowledgebase
  • To unlock these features and become a Qualified Expert, new Experts must earn 10,000 points (about 7 questions)
  • After that, they'll need to earn just 3,000 points each month to keep free membership and access to premium features

Share this link with your friends and colleagues!

"Chance ... and Chemistry"

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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.

About a year ago, we bought a new computer from Dell that came with Windows XP, with an option to upgrade to Vista. Since we pay a little bit of attention to technology, we knew that Windows 7 wasn't all that far away, so we figured we'd wait and see if we could just skip Vista. Then a few weeks ago, we had some issues and went to restore the OS, and lo and behold -- there's a Vista disk, but no Windows XP one. So we got on the phone to Dell.

While our experience with Dell's customer service system wasn't the worst ever - really (thanks, Big Ed!), we were transferred -- once we were able to explain using words of one syllable, speaking very slowly, from the hardware side ("not our problem") to the software side ("you need a disk that you get only from the hardware side") to getting cut off and/or hung up on twice before finally getting the disk sent. In fairness, it did show up.

So when the link to a talk by Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos, Inc., at the Business Information Factory conference arrived in our inbox, we paid attention to what he had to say about customer service, management and corporate culture. We'll admit -- we've never bought anything from Zappos -- but the matriarch in our family has -- actually quite a bit -- and she has always given them high marks for their service.

Hsieh took over as CEO of Zappos in 2000, when the online shoe store had under $2 million a year in sales; when he gave the talk, sales were headed for the $840 million mark, and when Zappos was acquired by Amazon in July 2009, the selling price was about $1.2 billion -- a reflection of Amazon's stock price at the time. So what did Hsieh do right? Well... several things.

At the top of the list is a commitment to providing the best customer experience possible -- the first item listed in the company's ten core values -- and in his talk, he cites several anecdotal situations his customer service department had dealt with that point to how well they handled the circumstances. But what's more important than what each person did in each situation -- though they were all sterling examples of going the extra mile -- is that in each instance, the person took ownership of the incident and dealt with it, unfettered by a book of rules or an org chart.

Hsieh talks about his company -- he is still the CEO a year after Zappos joined Amazon and based on the evidence, he is still enjoying himself immensely -- in a manner normally reserved for that special high school championship team you were a member of, except that he speaks in the present tense. Zappos isn't his first DotCom company -- but when he got involved with Zappos, he made sure that when it grew, it stayed fun. "When it was five or ten people", Hsieh says of his first company, "it was a lot of fun... but by the time it was 100 people, it just wasn't a fun place to go to work for anyone -- even for me."

"This was a company I co-founded," Hsieh says, "and now I didn't want to be a part of it."

Work isn't a game; it's a business transaction between someone who needs a set of tasks fulfilled and someone who is willing to complete them in exchange for valuable consideration. It is the conditions attached to the transaction -- completion of the tasks within deadlines, the appropriateness of the compensation, and whether there is the right kind of sweetener in the coffee room -- that allows the business relationship to continue.

Nothing in that description says that being enjoyable is a requirement for the transaction to occur -- but what is absolutely true is that if going to work is an experience people look forward to, they're more likely to continue to do it, and are less likely to be looking for some other place to hang their hat for X hours a day. One also notes that "fun" -- at least in Hsieh's context -- would probably be difficult to define contractually, but to paraphrase Justice Stewart, we know it when we see it.

And that is the point to Hsieh's talk: that the culture of a company defines the experience that not only customers have when doing business with the company, but also the experience that employees of and vendors to the company have. It is that experience that defines the Zappos brand.

So during the second go-around, Hsieh made certain that he hired for "culture fit" before necessarily worrying about the technical competence of employees. He understands that having people with a singular vision and with like motivation is far more conducive to success than having the best developers or inventory managers if those developers and managers don't see the company, its mission and their colleagues in the same way the customers, vendors and fellow employees do.

But what Hsieh doesn't say (as might be expected by number ten on his list of core values in a consistent "last but not least" kind of way) is that the reason his company has been successful at providing superior customer service is because the core values his company has are his. Like Apple, everything the company does reflects, to a large degree, the culture of the founders. Hsieh and his employees made conscious decisions about the kind of place they wanted to work at, and have gone to great pains to ensure that the people who work there have the same vision they do.

There is very little question that Apple reflects the vision of its CEO. It's obvious in the kinds of products he develops (as few buttons as possible), and in the way it presents its product line. Its customers have the same essential attitude -- justified or not -- towards the competition. That culture also makes the company secretive and controlling, even after you've purchased the product. That's not intended as criticism, but rather further evidence of just how astute Hsieh's observations are.

Hsieh also talks a lot about his company's brand -- the buzzword that means what you want people to think about your company when they hear or read the name of your company. Hsieh makes the compelling case that the reason a lot of companies have trouble is because the company brand doesn't match the company culture, and sooner or later it always catches up with them. He picks on the airlines: the "brand" of the industry is bad customer service. Companies are struggling with not being in control of their brand, and there's not a lot a they can do about it until the culture of the company matches the message the company is delivering to the world. Employees can blog, and customers have unlimited opportunities to play havoc.

The dirty little secret isn't such a secret: it -- like everything else having to do with how a company is run -- starts at the top. Ask Tony Hayward; despite being very good for BP's bottom line over the years, his disinterested comments about the Gulf of Mexico oil spill were perceived to be the attitude of the employees of the company, and BP's stock took a tumble -- which didn't sit well with the board of directors. Oh, and they're still planning on drilling in the gulf. The culture of the company doesn't match the advertising we've all seen that shows BP employees talking in that soft Louisiana drawl about how they're committed to cleaning up the mess. Nobody is buying it.

Hsieh's talk ends with a word of caution: don't play fast and loose when trying to define your company's culture. He warns against having core values or guiding principles or a mission statement that is just like the company next door; they're "lofty sounding and all sound the same". Zappos took about a year to come up with its list, and it wasn't something that was handed down; he took the novel step of asking the people who work for Zappos to come up with the list.

He suggests that if you're going to take the time to define your company's culture, then make sure you do it in a way that you can actually implement it. It's not worth the time to come up with something that "might look good in a press release", and in fact, you'll probably fail, just as the airlines have failed to convince people that they want to provide good service. "Make your core values commitable," Hsieh says. "Make sure you hire only based on those core values, and that you're willing to fire based on them."

One can always point out the obvious "which came first -- the chicken or the egg" paradox of Zappos' success, but one thing is certain. It isn't really important whether it was because of Hsieh's leadership in putting into practice the lessons he learned from his first DotCom experience, or whether it was that his employees -- chosen by people Hsieh hired who reflect the company he wanted to build -- all bought into his vision. What's important is that finding people who want to fulfill the corporate goal of providing the best possible service experience -- thereby reinforcing the culture that Hsieh has nurtured for ten years -- has made his company successful.

Put it this way: if it's good enough for Mom, it's good enough for me.

More News and Notes

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Rumors of my death: Gawker -- one of the sites we like because it pokes fun at pretty much anything and anyone -- is poking fun at Wired ("a magazine founded by digital utopians") over an upcoming story about the "Death of the Web", decrying the rise of applications -- which are managed and controlled systems -- to the detriment of this open, free, unfettered morass of viruses, downloaded malware, billion-hour time sinks, identity thieves and everything else we all try to avoid. But the web isn't dying; it's just becoming useful. Of course, it's also creating new ways for people to make a mess of it.

Same ol', same ol': Google was blocked by the good folks in China again. Not a big deal, since this happens every time someone at Google tweaks the algorithm to show no results when someone looks for "China human rights". What's interesting is that at the end of the story, there's a comment quoting Google CFO Patrick Pichette as saying "Certainly from a financial perspective, I want to reiterate, revenue from China is not material." Given that Google's growth curve is flattening, if it's not important, why is everyone trying so hard to maintain a presence there?

They're our friends, so we don't mind: The Saudi government has said it will ban the Blackberry because its transmissions are encrypted, meaning the government can't listen in. RIM, the company that makes the devices, is both crying foul and trying to get the Saudis (and other governments) to lighten up, and the Obama administration is getting its two cents' worth in as well.

In case you hadn't heard: American's spend a fourth of their time on the Internet playing games and using social sites -- or more -- and sucking money out of the pockets of employers and taxpayers. We can't help but wonder what the relationship is between that story and the item about monkeys who hate flying squirrels, because in this case, the monkeys are the variety commonly studied because their social behavior patterns resemble those of humans, except they don't post on Facebook.

Fiddling with Bureaucratic Idiocy: For whatever reason, the FBI -- the same people who are only now getting the hang of sending email -- sent letters (y'know, the kind with stamps, in envelopes) to Wikipedia's parent organization demanding that the website take down the official seal. Wikipedia sent a polite but pointed "no."

Ooops Redux: Following Microsoft's discontinuation of the Kin after 48 days, Google has axed Wave after a scant 77 days.

One bad apple: You had to know that when Apple got a ton of bad press over the iPhone 4 -- something that should have been expected given the company's attitude that it can't do anything wrong -- that someone's head was going to roll. Meanwhile, more fixes are being discovered -- as are more problems.

The right side of copyright enforcement: We've been ranting for years about the methods used by the recording and movie industries to get money, largely because they take a lion's share for themselves and don't really give all that much to the artists. The other side of the coin, though, is the people who represent the composers, authors and performers.

If you don't like it -- change the channel: The Twitter-inspired television show $#*! my Dad Says has drawn the wrath of a decency group that apparently doesn't like references on broadcast television to bodily functions most people are happy to have (among other things). Unfortunately, the Federal Communications Commission, which oversees such important matters in the US, recently had its rules tossed out by a federal court.

Lists of the week: The 21 most annoying abbreviations on Twitter. Note that no one listed Twitter itself as being annoying. Also, Comic-Con costumes.

WARNING: Politics alert: The only reason we're bringing this up is because Meg Whitman, the former CEO of eBay who has spent $100 million so far in her bid become governor of California (that's about $8.33 per vote based on the 2008 turnout, and over $11 per vote compared to the 2006 election) is now modifying positions. Too bad that California doesn't have a Buy It Now option.

The next big thing: We think it will be the guy who writes the software that allows a Windows XP user to upgrade to Windows 7 without having to take the intervening step of installing Vista. Why? Because the market has confirmed what everyone knows: Vista was a disaster.

The "HP way" does not mean "hidden payments": Or at least, it didn't for a long time, but its problems over the past few years keep on coming, as CEO Mark Hurd, hired to clean up the mess left by Carly Fiorina, resigned following an investigation into alleged sexual misconduct and misuse of company expense accounts.

Never trust anyone over 30: The lawsuit against Google alleging age discrimination has been allowed to proceed by a California court.

Signs of the Apocalypse: We know that it's unheard of -- but Internet Explorer has gained market share -- at the expense of FireFox and Chrome -- in each of the last two months. Whether that will continue when the IE9 beta is released next month could well hinge on how easy it is to use the privacy features. Also, marketers want to rid Twitter of spam.

Nata's Corner

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Nata's PictureThe good guys are getting better at catching the bad guys. The Slovenian police, following up on the Spanish authorities' bust-up of a huge botnet, arrested a 23-year-old man suspected of being the mastermind behind a 12-million-computer botnet. Then late last week, authorities in Estonia sent a 26-year-old man to the US to be arraigned on fraud and hacking charges. There are still who knows how many botnets still out there, but as the good guys become more sophisticated, they may have some hope of getting these guys off the Internet -- and out of our computers.

I came across a pretty funny -- at least, I think it's funny -- item about all those people who want to be like Shaq and Ashton Kusher with a gazillion followers on Twitter, but aren't famous so they buy lists of followers. It turns out that trying to increase your visibilty -- and possibly your income -- by buying followers can compromise your account, so anyone who has done so is now being required to reset his/her password by Twitter. It's the same story, people: don't give your password away to anyone you don't know.

It looks like I might actually be able to get the iPhone one of these days without having to re-up my contract with AT&T: the exclusive deal with Apple to only let the phone be used on Ma Bell's network is coming to an end. Now we just have to figure out how to get Verizon to build a tower near us, but it's a start. I guess it was predictable that Apple would ease up a bit once the 3G version was jailbroken.

Finally, I know I've mentioned these things before, but in the interest of making sure you know what to look for, here are five signs that your computer might be infected with some kind of malware:

  • Your computer slows down: Viruses and malware -- especially the kind that hijacks your computer for a botnet -- use up a ton of resources.
  • Your browser crashes: One crash does not an infestation make -- but if your browser (especially if it's Internet Explorer) happens frequently, then you should be suspicious.
  • You start getting mail saying "undelivered": If you receive emails saying that you sent emails that couldn't be delivered, you could have a virus that is sending them. You might not, too, because email addresses get spoofed all the time -- but you should at least check.
  • You get startup error messages: If you start seeing messages that were never there before, and you know you didn't deliberately do something to change things, then you should look at doing a system check.
  • Your computer just doesn't look right: We all get used to how things are supposed to look, so if something doesn't quite look right when you boot up your computer, or when you're working on something, then it's time to look a little deeper.

And while you're at it, you might want to look over Sophos' ten myths of safe browsing (free registration required).


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New Genius: Chris-Dent may be the only person who has earned a Genius certificate in the past couple of weeks, but he makes up for everyone else; the one he just earned in Powershell is his fifth. Congratulations, Chris!

Milestones: Last issue, we mentioned the milestones that capricorn1 had met, and this week, he added another one: he is the second member of EE to go over 5,000,000 points in each of two zones.

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