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Your Technology Problems...SOLVED

OCTOBER 27, 2010


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

Tip From The Mods
About using links in articles

Overcoming Peter's Principle
It's not easy being the boss

Nata's Corner
Garbageware, Facebook, botnets and quick fixes

More News and Notes
Old habits die hard

Who did what through October 23


Consolidated zone list: If you ask questions, you have noticed this week that the list of zones in which you can ask your question is a lot shorter than it was a few weeks ago. The zones aren't gone -- but the question wizard no longer sees them. That's because over the last four years, we have found that the nearly 1000 zones that are still listed on the Browse tab in the upper left corner made it actually more difficult for people to get their answers, and more difficult for Experts to find the questions they wanted to answer. Call it a great example of too many choices.

If your filters have those now-hidden zones in them, they'll still work. If you find yourself in one of the hidden zones and Ask A Related Question, you will be redirected to the appropriate zone. No questions are being moved out of the hidden zones, and all points and certificates will remain just as they are.

Major props go to the EE staffers -- lasally, MightyMegan and engineer molsen-ee -- who took a very complicated problem, came up with an elegant and simple solution, and implemented it with virtually no glitches. Nice work, all!

Kudos: One of the hallmarks of an outstanding Expert is the willingness to go above and beyond. Five months ago, sunhux asked a question about automating some processes with scripts, and craisin (who celebrates ten years at EE next month) stepped up, and is still working on the problem -- but in the intervening months his Premium Services lapsed. That prompted sunhux to post to the Moderators: "I would urge you to keep CRaisin's membership as he's been very helpful. As the efforts he put in are mainly coding/programming, the points awarded certainly can't commensurate with his efforts. Also, I've been caught up, so my apologies that I can't revert back earlier. Kindly extend Chris Raisin's membership for another 3 months at least." Don't worry, sunhux; we'll take care of him.

Register a Friend for FREE! Have a friend who knows a thing or two about technology?

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Share the free registration link with your friends and colleagues!

Tip from the Moderators

About using links as solutions

Every once in a while, someone complains to us that the solutions people post to questions are "little more than a link", and therefore should not be given the same grade that a well-written, complete solution that includes tested code and screen shots does. And up to a point, we agree with that.

However, a lot of links are the solution. For example, if someone asks "Where can I download Ubuntu?", the link to is a pretty clear and concise answer. Similarly, a link to a Microsoft article on a particular problem is far better than copying and pasting the answer from the Microsoft website, if only because Microsoft has copyrighted the material, and doing so is a violation of that.

What we prefer to see is the link, along with a sentence or two describing what the linked page says. That tells the asker that, first of all, you have read and understand his problem, so the link will be an appropriate solution. The comment should also make a note of anything the asker might have to do that isn't mentioned on the page; for example, if the question is about Access 2003, and the page lists an Access 97 solution, you should say that, because even if it's likely to work, the steps enumerated on the page might be slightly different.

There are two kinds of links we do not like to see. The first is the comment that says "go to and they'll solve your problem." That's a pretty straightforward violation of the Terms of Use of EE, and will at a minimum result in getting the comment deleted. The other kind is the laundry list of links, one of which might solve the problem. We all understand that everyone is competing for points -- but throwing some spaghetti up on the wall and hoping some of it sticks isn't going to work.

Overcoming Peter's Principle

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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 came across one of the more enlightening blog posts we've read in quite a while, written by Fast Company's Paul Glover. It starts:

Memorandum to the Entire Company

To: My Direct Reports & Anyone Else in the Company Who Has to Interact With Me.
From: The Boss
Re: How to Interact With Me Most Effectively

I realize I am often not clear in expressing my expectations for the operation and for you. To help remedy that situation, improve the Company and make the operation run more smoothly, here are some guidelines as to how you should interact with me. These guidelines are just suggestions, but, hopefully, they will improve our relationship and help the Company to operate at a higher level of performance.

In the following areas, here is how I would prefer you interact with me

Ø Communication:

Ø Decision Making & Problem Solving:

Ø Team Work:

Ø Conflict Resolution:

Ø Time Management:

If I need to further clarify any of this information when we are working together, please do not hesitate to let me know what additional information about me would help make working together more productive.

Oh, snap.

A few bosses are great. They know what they want -- they have The Vision, even if it's making donuts for commuters. They can articulate the mission to subordinates. They make the environment for accomplishing the tasks one in which employees want to excel. They are involved in every aspect of the endeavor, and they make sure it conforms to what they want. There is an urgency about them that is constantly striving to provide what customers want. (Note: this doesn't mean they will always be successful in terms of making a pile of money. Sorry, but they're not going to sell a lot of buggy whips in the Florida Everglades... but they can say they did the best they possibly could.) If you're lucky enough to find yourself working for one of these people, stick with him or her, because they don't come along very often.

People like Steve Jobs, Bill Hewlett and David Packard, even Larry Ellison and Mark Zuckerberg -- they just don't come along every day. But they all have a few things in common. They know what they want to accomplish, and if you're not helping them get there, then you're not going to be there for long. They know how to communicate with the people who are providing what they need in order to succeed. They [kinda] know how to find people to help them get the job done, and then make sure those people don't have a reason to look for someplace else to be.

Unfortunately, most bosses Peter-Principle themselves in one way or another. They may be the shining star of the organization who, like Magic Johnson, could do anything on a basketball court -- except teach other people how to do those things. They may be the cook who knows that given his own place he can make the world's best foie gras -- but if that's what he's selling in rural Oklahoma, it had better come with some very good grits. He may be that teacher who has maxed himself out on the salary scale, so to make a bit more money, he gets his administrative credential -- which is fine until one realizes there's a difference between 25 freshman geography students for 50 minutes and 60 teachers (most of whom have tenure and can't be fired) for the whole year.

Or he could be the guy who grew up in the family business, but never learned that there's more to managing people than doing what dad or grandpa did. Or maybe the boss saw a situation and simply bought the company, and figured that the skills that made him a successful real estate developer would make running a major league baseball team a piece of cake.

Whatever it is, without that singular vision, communicated to suppliers, employees and customers, and implemented by skilled personnel who want that vision realized, most companies will survive -- but they won't thrive.

So what's a boss to do about the Peter Principle when he's risen to his level of incompetence? That's a tough one, because while it's easy to say "hire good people and get the heck out of the way," the reality is that it's the boss's name on the check (just ask fans of the Los Angeles Clippers). But we do have some suggestions.

Don't listen to one person. Listen to everyone, and don't sit around waiting for them to come talk to you, either. Chances are pretty good that your employees know what it will take to make your customers happy; your customers certainly know, and they'll tell you if you ask. But don't take just one senior advisor's counsel as gospel; if he's someone you have brought in, he may not be in any better position to understand your venture than you are. Customers aren't always right either (after all, they said they liked the Edsel too), but if you ask them "what can we do better," you're likely to get nothing worse than another perspective, and you might find the secret of being successful.

Don't be afraid to screw up -- and if you do, don't hide from it. Most bosses don't have all the skills it takes to reach the Jobs/Ellison/Zuckerberg level. For one thing, those guys have no fear -- especially when it comes to failing. Does anyone remember the Newton? Or the Lisa? Only if you remind them. But everyone knows the Mac and the iPhone. What did Apple do when it realized nobody wanted the Newton? They shut it down and went on to the next idea Jobs had -- they didn't waste time trying to defend a mistake.

Get involved. We think the most intriguing show on television is Undercover Boss, where CEOs of hotel chains, garbage companies and even DirecTV go out and clean pools, hoist trash cans and install satellite dishes. They find out the hard way what their employees do, and what their customers really think. The front lines are where the action is, and experience really is the best teacher.

Your primary job is to keep people focused. There are a lot of things you can do, but the easiest is to enable them to do what you're paying them to do. Your billing department should know what you expect; it's one thing to make sure the job is getting done, and another entirely to look at each and every invoice. Make sure you have enough people to do the job, but having too many is almost worse than not having enough, because there's always some who will make sure the job gets done -- and more who will always find something else to do so they look busy. The last thing they need is another distraction.

You're the BOSS, and you asked for this gig. Your subordinates look to you for leadership and direction. If you're not providing a clear and consistent mission, then the work they produce will reflect that. You're the person who solves the problems, so you shouldn't be the one creating them by deciding that since you've been successful selling breakfast you should now sell high-heeled shoes -- unless you can convince your staff that it's a market segment that will add significantly to the bottom line.

Nobody said it was going to be easy -- but what is absolutely true is that if you don't do the work, nobody else is going to do it for you, and you have to be darn lucky to even find someone else who can.

More News and Notes

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Old habits die hard: Having spent decades in the newspaper business, recycling pounds of press releases every day, we love a good goof when they're involved -- especially one that is played on a big oil company. Last week, at the email address we used when we ran the papers (we sold in 1997, for those playing catch-up), we received an email from Chevron decrying a remarkably well-crafted take-off on the company's "We Agree" campaign. Not to be outdone, the people who created the spoof campaign followed up the next day with a press release of their own.

Millions of people watched as 33 Chilean miners were rescued using a single hoistBecause we know people like things they don't have to read: Colored pictures and a hand-drawn map. An iPhone went into space and survived a 19 mile fall at 150 mph; and more seriously, the compelling image of the week is at left; watching the video stream of the rescue of 33 Chilean miners captivated millions.

In requiem: Benoît Mandelbrot, the developer of fractal geometry, died October 16 at the age of 85.

Okay, we'll start slow and then spring the biggie on them just in time for Christmas: Verizon and Apple have come up with a way to annoy AT&T before the iPhone manufacturer's exclusive deal with Ma Bell runs out: Verizon is going to start selling the iPad beginning this week, at the same time AT&T does. Given the frustrations people on both coasts have had with no service for over three years, Apple can expect a pretty nice little uptick on the sales charts if all the rumors are true.

Show me the money: Slate had an entertaining profile on Peter Thiel, the guy who started PayPal and sold it to eBay, then used some of the money to bankroll Facebook's first expansion. (Thanks, Susan!)

Words, words, words: Some people say "closed"; others say "integrated". Some say "open"; others say "fragmented". And of course, some people say "give the customer what he wants", and others say "we'll decide what's good for you". You say "po-tay-toe", and I say "pot-tah-toe..."

Are we the only people who think Apple's boss has been taking a few body shots lately? If his bashing of Android and RIM (and people who developed for Android) is any indication, the gPhone is putting a little pressure on Apple. Next up: notepads and apps for them.

Better late than never: Happy Birthday, Super Mario.

Microsoft wins one: In the ongoing battle between two Sumo wrestlers with their hands tied behind their backs, Redmond -- which has been playing catch-up to Google on just about every front from search to apps in the cloud -- can finally point to a win: 800-GOOG-411 will disappear in a couple of weeks, but 800-BING-411 will still be there.

Black Me Out For The Ball Game: It may be America's national passtime, but America's game is two big companies fighting over money and making their customers suffer. On the east coast, Cablevision -- one of the larger cable companies that serves New York, has stopped carrying the Fox network because Fox doesn't want the fees it pays to Cablevision doubled. That means a good number of baseball fans didn't get to watch the National League Championship Series between San Francisco and Philadelphia, and New Yorkers won't be watching the World Series either. Fox went so far as to try to cut off Cablevision's access to Hulu. No worries, though; the FCC, which sort of plays watchdog to the industry, posted on Twitter for fans. The stakes got higher over the weekend, as the three broadcast networks in the US blocked their content to Google TV. Don't worry, though; QVC and HSN will pick up the slack in programming.

Memo to stone5150: Avoid these costumes this weekend.

This should make P&R entertaining: The Dead Sea Scrolls are going to be available on Google to anyone who wants to read them. (Thanks, Anita!) There are a lot of other zones that could get increased traffic too.

No matter how much you polish it, it's still...: A couple of years ago, we warned (not that she knows we warned her) Carol Bartz, the then-newly-hired CEO of Yahoo, that her company's DNA was going to make fixing the company a long row to hoe -- if she even could fix it. (You know you're in trouble when there's talk about AOL buying your company -- and it causes your stock price to actually rise.) Last week, Yahoo's earnings report came out (stop the presses: net income up -- from selling assets and cutting payroll -- and revenue flat), and it appears that nothing much has changed -- including the expectations of the Yahoo board. We hear Ray Ozzie is available...

Signs of the Apocalypse: Twits can be used to predict the stock market, and a Swedish thief returned the data from a stolen laptop -- but not the computer. Not so fortunate: a school in California.

Nata's Corner

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Nata's PictureA must-read for anyone buying a new PC: an article with tips on removing all that annoying "free" software that comes with it.

I will admit it: despite my other half's aversion to Facebook (he says he will be the last person alive who will not join), I use it to keep up with my children and my family. But I came across a Gawker article about how Facebook applications track your personal information to sell advertising -- no real surprise there -- but the application manufacturers then sell that information to advertising providers and such. It's not exactly something new that Facebook has just come up with, but fortunately, Gawker also provided instructions for how to stop it from happening. Of course, you could also use the service Mark Cuban is funding.

Still, Facebook's somewhat devil-may-care attitude towards security makes you wonder why they would be so upset about spammers that sue them. After all, wouldn't all that information just help Facebook help you identify people you're connected to but don't know it?

A recent report from Microsoft says that over 2,000,000 PCs in the US -- over five percent -- were added to botnets in just the second quarter of 2010. It could be worse, and probably is, because the report is based on the number of infections cleaned by Microsoft's malware removal tool, so it doesn't include the computers that haven't had any updating done. The US can take some comfort that there are other countries that have a higher per capita number of infections; South Korea leads the pack with over fourteen percent of its computers doing the botnets' bidding. Credit where it's due: c|net has a pretty good guide for what to check for to see if you have a problem, and the Obama administration is looking at a piece of software from Australia that lets ISPs alert their customers about hijacked computers. Of course, you can also always ask someone for advice too.

Finally, Forbes magazine's website had a slideshow list of 10 tech fixes you can make right now, and while it probably isn't practical for someone to spend $1,000 on cleaning up one computer twice a year, the list can easily be adapted to fit most of us:

  1. Clean house: Open up the box and clean it. Take a day to make sure you're completely updated. Get rid of trial versions of software you're not using.
  2. Don't just run any old report: Do you really need to print something? Do you need one page but print six?
  3. Go remote: I write this at home -- but I don't have to. There's more to life than sitting at a computer all day, so get a laptop or notebook and enjoy the sunshine... and then do the work later.
  4. Print with care: I already mentioned printing only the pages you really need, but you can also install a font called Spranq eco sans and use it as your default, and it will save a lot of ink.
  5. Get the most out of your cell phone: They require a lot less energy and can usually save you time as well.
  6. Call for backup: There are so many sites that will let you back up your data at little or no cost. If you're a little gunshy about using an online service, buy an external drive like a MyBook and use that.
  7. Let software help you: The article mentions CRM software, but even if you're a home user and want to keep track of recipes and doctor's appointments, there's always Google.
  8. Change your phone system: We switched from the telephone company to our cable company a couple of years ago, and haven't looked back. Now, we're waiting for our cell phone provider to offer service for our area (they have a mutual assistance agreement with a smaller provider for our little town), and then we'll switch again -- and save some pretty good money in the process. One of my brothers-in-law uses Vonage, and loves it.
  9. Lean on your technology vendors: This one is more about businesses than it is about the home user, but there is one technology vendor you can lean on a lot, and you already know who it is: Experts Exchange.
  10. Appoint a super user: Another one on the Forbes list that is aimed at businesses, but it does make a point. Most home users don't know all that much about their computers, so they make big mistakes. So find someone, somewhere, who will help you (even if it costs you some money) when you're stuck.


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New Genius: If you're only going to celebrate one new Genius, who better to be the recipient than byundt, who has earned his second, this one in Microsoft Office. Congratulations!


  • LSMConsulting has 9,000,000 points since joining Experts Exchange.
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  • Ray_Paseur has reached 7,000,000 points overall.
  • demazter is the 48th EE member to reach 6,000,000 points overall.
  • sdstuber is the most recent member of EE to go over 5,000,000 points.
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