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Your Technology Problems...SOLVED

NOVEMBER 6, 2013

Featured Content

What's New at Experts Exchange
From SLO and beyond

Why healthcare.gov crashed
Lessons for the web developer

Nata's Corner
Browser hijacks and the TSA

What they're saying about you

In Brief
Things you might have missed

Who did what through Nov. 2

What's New at E-E


  • NEW: On-site notifications feature for both the website and mobile experience.
  • Topic area "roll up" removing inactive topic areas while simultaneously migrating questions from inactive TAs into larger, broader topic areas. All earned points, profile recognition, and old question URLs will remain.
  • The Support page regarding off-site content and links has been updated.
  • The cookie for the Mobile site now remembers the last view of the site.
  • The "Narrow This Search" box now stays collapsed.
  • .sqlplan has been added to the list of file types that can be uploaded.

Cryptoblocker: In our last issue, Nata had an item about the new piece nasty ransomware that had been seen in the wild, and we were barely on the presses when zoscoit posted that one of his computers had been infected. The question is still open, so if anyone has a solution that hasn't been posted, you would be doing the world a favor.

php.net: Major props to Ray_Paseur for posting a "question" regarding a notice to PHP users on php.net, the primary support site (besides Experts Exchange) for the scripting language, warning that its site had been compromised.

Marathon runner: mbizup ran her sixth Marine Corps Marathon, finishing in her personal best time of 4:37:13. Her stated goal is to beat Oprah.

Marathon coder: Andrew Nacin was singled out by WordPress CEO Matt Mullenweg as the lead developer of WordPress 3.7, released a couple of weeks ago. A new release is due in December.

Blog Posts: Recent posts to the EE blog, contributed by the Topic Advisors and highlighting notable questions and solutions, include:

Mea culpa: In our last issue, we typed out the wrong name in pointing to a solution for a formatting dates and times. We linked to the correct profile, that of jimhorn, but mistakenly typed in jimpen's username.

DrackulaUnlimited racks for $29/mo: It's a data center app that doesn't bite, also known as dRACKula. Now you can get unlimited users and manage unlimited racks and datacenters for just $29 a month or $299 a year.

BugfinderBugFinder: BugFinder is Experts Exchange's new system that allows you to post your website and have Experts help you find the problems with spelling and grammar, display issues, functionality and security issues, or just get feedback. You assign points based on the nature of the bugs found, and can reward those Experts who help you out the most. Check it out.

Why healthcare.gov crashed

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By now, most of us have heard about the problems facing people trying to use healthcare.gov, the US government's website created to allow people to get health insurance. It's bad enough that while 4.7 million people visited the site on its first day, only six people were able to successfully enroll on the first day, and now the Obama administration is calling in the big guns to try and get the site fixed by the end of November.

But last week, when beavoid asked a straight question about the failings of the site, it was Ray_Paseur who posted one of the most concise and complete descriptions of the problems.

Actually, I think Avik Roy's Forbes Article was exactly on point. The implementation team knew last winter that this rollout was going to be a disaster.

If you want to see some of the things wrong with the healthcare.gov, open a private browsing window and do "view source."

Then look at the output of the validator.

Then try to envision assembling a staff of software development professionals who understood the risks of passing personal data around in clear text through JavaScript, who understood the APIs of 50 different state health care programs, and who understood how to build to scale.

Add to that a system that has, literally, nobody in charge. Congress wants to hold hearings to find out what went wrong and they can't even figure out who to subpoena. The initial bids were $90MM. The as-built cost at the opening failure was $580MM. The contractors who received the money say it's the Government's fault. Secretary Sebelius says she didn't tell the President it was not working -- he had to find out just like everyone else. The program is totally rudderless.

Anyone who has experience in large-scale systems development has been required to read Fred Brooks seminal treatise, The Mythical Man Month. Among other things he advises that "adding manpower to a late software project makes it later" and "plan to throw one away." This latter point is where most of the Obamacare software failures are originating. What Brooks teaches us is that even the most well-reasoned and thoughtfully designed software will not work right at its first implementation, and that designs will, of necessity, change when the software is first built. It's not a question of whether you will need to throw the first build away, because you will have to throw it away. The only question is whether you will deliver it to the customers and make them throw it away. The site suffers from both accidental complexity and essential complexity. Oh, by the way, there was a design criterion that the site was required to keep the rates secret from the clients until it had gathered all of their personal information.

Was there ever an Alpha Release of healthcare.gov? Was there ever a private Beta? Was there ever a public Beta? Trying to release a system like this without formal testing cycles is not a path to success.

The Government has spent more money on this web site than were spent to build Twitter and Facebook together. And nobody is going to be held accountable for the failures. The contractors will get paid no matter how bad the cost overruns. The Government employees who are party to the mess will still have their jobs and pensions, and the American public will be stuck with the bill.

Executive summary: Political leadership, but no technological leadership, a palpable lack of understanding of the principles of large-scale systems development, inadequate testing, a hard deadline. All that and I'll bet if you peel the onion, somewhere in the inner layers you will find SELECT * with no LIMIT clause!

Here is the source code from the first private viewing of healthcare.gov -- what does it tell you when you find variables assignments commented out in deployed code?

And now for my brief political commentary. The site is misnamed. It's called healthcare.gov, but it has nothing to do with health CARE. It's only about health INSURANCE. That's all the law does -- makes it a crime not to buy health insurance. There is nothing in the law that can do anything at all to improve health care in America.

Finally, we were sent this story -- and we have no doubts about its veracity -- from one of EE's members:

I was in Canada last week for a leadership retreat (current president of the association is based there) and it turns out that the brother of one of the attendees is a Vice President at CGI and he joined us for one of the casual dinners. So of course all of the people at the tabled badgered him and me into a conversation.

Me: So...how's work?
Him: <glares>
Me: You know, I probably could have rolled out a better site using WordPress, Gravity Forms, and WP Engine for large scale hosting. I did the math...would have been a lot less money and the data would still have been accessible to the state exchanges.
Him: <examines remnants of drink, flags waiter for refill>
Me: Anyway, bonne chance!


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Anyone who has felt the pain of having to recompose a long post at Experts Exchange has nothing on the suffering done by a friend of owenharris63 when she lost a semester's worth of university work that was contained in a corrupted Word document on a USB drive. You have to read BillDL's posts in the thread to believe them. While he was ultimately only able to recover parts of the file, we've been reading threads at Experts Exchange for a long time, and they're among the most awe-inspiring we've ever read. The asker agreed: BIll went above and beyond on this one and did as much as possible without asking NSA or someone on an American spy show (who can instantly hack in, instantly guess passwords, and recover data with seconds to spare in real time while people are shooting etc). I really appreciate your efforts. Thank you!

There aren't any shortcuts; that was the message delivered to Roodona when he asked about coding dynamic webpages. He got responses from Ray_Paseur, DanielWilson and COBOLdinosaur (and an assist from Topic Advisor padas) that said, essentially, "Learn what you're doing, and don't try to reinvent the wheel.": hanks for your honesty. You saved me from a potential embarrassing interview.

DatabaseDek was having some issues with an Access report on one of several machines and got an answer from LSMConsulting that offered a number of issues to look at: Thank you. I must say that I sometimes don't use Experts Exchange for months on end, but when I do, oh boy, do I get my money's worth!

ouestque was looking for a short and efficient formula in Excel and fanpages responded within minutes with a couple of options that even impressed EE's king of formulas, barryhoudini. ouestque's evaluation: Thanks so much!! Brilliant! I'm trying to accept your answers on my iPhone 4s using Safari, but the comments box is covering the grade. Because I can't set your grade it won't let me submit. I want to give y'all an A++!!! Should we let the administrators know? Meanwhile I'll try to accept your answers when I get on my laptop at home.

fh_freese wrote a subroutine in Excel but was looking for an easier way to accomplish his task. Within minutes, he had solutions from both als315 and nutsch: WOW - looks like two great solutions with different approaches. If I have a problem I'll follow up. Thank you very much.

A shared Access application was at the core of a question posed by bfuchs. TheHiTechCoach and jimpen teamed up to provide the solution: Hi all, many thanks for all your great work, its a real pleasure to deal with you guys!!

Nata's Corner

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Nata's PicturecoffeeI hate to tell you this, guys, but it works.

Courtesy of Sophos, a "security overhaul" for your home network. You have no excuses now. You can now also see who is tracking your browser activity.

It's not a hacking hoax. It's a riddle. On the other hand, what isn't a hoax is that the picture you find using a Google search might be infected with something -- so maybe you should just use Paint and create a picture of your own.

It seems like everyone I know has at one point or another had their homepage hijacked. Most of the time, it's because they mistakenly clicked a button that says "make this your homepage" thinking they were just adding it to their favorites, but sometimes, it happens when they visit a site they probably shouldn't have. Occasionally, it turns out to be a real mess, like when you get the MoneyPak "FBI" malware, but a lot of the time it's a lot easier to fix:

  • First, go to your Control Panel and find the item dealing with Programs (its exact working will depend on your operating system), and open it.
  • Second, find the program that relates to your new, bad home page. It will probably be a toolbar, like Eazel or Conduit; uninstall it. Then close the Control Panel.
  • Third, open your browser and look for your Options under Tools. Internet Explorer calls it Internet Options, but it's the right place. Open the Options.
  • You'll see a tab for General settings, and on that will be a field for your homepage. Remove the site that is there, and put in the page you want as your homepage, apply or save, and then close the Options.
  • Finally, under Tools, find the selection related to Add-ons. Firefox calls it simply Add-ons, while IE lists Manage add-ons. Locate any search providers you don't want, and remove it from the list.

That should take care of the problem. If it doesn't, keep track of your steps, and ask the great Experts at EE for help!

In case they're still looking for volunteers, I'd be happy to be on Twitter's board of directors. My glasses match the color of the little bird, don't they?

For a while now, I've been writing about our adventures with the TSA, especially during a period of time when I was in a wheelchair whenever we travelled. Given that the NSA has been spying on everyone, I guess I shouldn't be surpised that the TSA is too. They say it's nothing new, but if that's the case, how come they can't remember the woman with short blonde hair and the artificial knees?

Finally, not that anyone should be surprised, Facebook has started testing tracking mouse movements to see which ads people like. They'll need to have a spot on the page that stands for "none of the above."

In Brief

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bar napkin Oh, snap: The story says it's a PowerPoint slide, but it sure looks like the NSA figured out how to tap everyone's Google traffic on a bar napkin (or maybe a Post-It). We can't wait for it to show up on a t-shirt.

Don't bother Googling it: At this point, it's a big floating box. We think it's where they will calculate uncertainty into Minecraft, and there's no question they'll put up a banner ad to tell us when they're good and ready. The Coast Guard ain't talkin'.

WTF? Everyone is piling on (most eloquently our own Ray_Paseur) the US government's inability to deliver a non-health care system that the Republicans wanted until they got it and the Democrats didn't want but are stuck with. It can't be the contractors' fault, so it must be the Health & Human Services Secretary's fault. Given the severity of some of the flaws, we'll wait for the beta version. It isn't this site (thanks, Ray!).

In a related item, what the heck is the American Council for Technology-Industry Advisory Council Executive Leadership Conference? And how does a former cable company lobbyist get confirmed as the head of the FCC -- overseeing cable companies?

Fun with pictures: What all of the world's digital attacks look like. If you look at the map from October 30 -- that's the GOP piling on to healthcare.gov.

In requiem: William Lowe, the father of the IBM 5150, also known as the Personal Computer. The ticker symbol DELL (no, that's not what it smells like). The customizable iGoogle start page.

When Patent Tolls Collide: You knew that when two big companies who compete against each other form a third company to buy up a failed company's patents assets for billions that they're just itching for a fight with someone worth billions, especially when that someone a) lost out on the bidding for those patents and b) spent billions to acquire another company with very similar patents. Halloween was the witching hour, when Apple and Microsoft, which outbid Google for Nortel's patents, sued Google and everyone else.

Time to unload that FB stock... and maybe think about Twitter, because that's what all the cool kids are doing.

And if you think EE is complicated: Wikipedia recently uncovered a huge gang of sockpuppets with the help of some of their automated systems, but those same tools are chasing people away.

You heard it here first: Carl Icahn -- of Yahoo, Dell and Netflix infamy -- appears to be setting his sights on Apple.

Happy Birthday, Morris!

Memo to Zuck: There's something worse than having your website cloned: having your source code and customer base stolen. But about that whole violent images thing...

And while we're on the subject of breaches, MongoDB was hacked on a web scale. (Sorry, Jason -- couldn't resist.)

Because we can: America's best donuts (we've actually been to three of the places on the list) combined with the NSA random-search-terms haiku generator and Apple Keynote Bingo. Also, the science of jumping frogs with apologies to Mr Smiley).

The mind reels: Pinterest, which has revenues of maybe $3.14 since it launched, is somehow valued at $3.8 billion.

Signs of the Apocalypse: Now they can store that record of the text you sent to your Aunt Suzie for a million years. Something free -- from Apple. Don't worry about whether smog will kill you; it could kill your computer.


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New Aces: Chris-Dent has reached the 2.5 million point level in Active Directory, while leakim971 got his certificate in Jquery, where he is the top-ranked Expert.

New Geniuses: COBOLdinosaur has earned his fourth Genius certificate, in JavaScript. jimhorn's second Genius certificate is in SQL Server. wilcoxon has earned his first Genius certificate, in Perl Programming.

My First Million: Reaching the 1,000,000 point level in October were paulsauve, smckeown777, vallis, dgrafx and Mysidia.


Expert In Topic Area Certificate
esskayb2d.NET ProgrammingMaster
Chris-DentActive DirectoryAce
CoralonActive DirectoryMaster
henkvaCisco PIX/ASAMaster
Arrow_1Content ManagementMaster
knightEknightEE LoungeMaster
allenfalconEmail ServersMaster
breadtanHardware FirewallsGuru
diverseitHardware FirewallsGuru
jcimarronInternet ProtocolsMaster
arnoldIT AdministrationMaster
Gary_The_IT_ProMisc DatabasesMaster
BillBachMisc ProgrammingMaster
GertoneMisc Web DevGuru
clayfoxMS AccessMaster
RainerJMS ApplicationsGuru
JDettmanMS ExcelMaster
FaustulusMS ExcelWizard
BitsqueezerMS OfficeMaster
amitkulshresthaMS Server AppsMaster
smckeown777MS Server OSMaster
Expert In Topic Area Certificate
jimhornMS SQL ServerGenius
geek_vjMS SQL ServerGuru
NetfloMS Virtual ServerMaster
kevinhsiehMS Virtual ServerWizard
breadtanNetwork AnalysisMaster
Garry-GNetwork Design & MethodologyMaster
TimotiStNetwork ManagementMaster
AkinsdNetworking HardwareMaster
mikebernhardtNetworking ProtocolsMaster
vasilchoOffice 365Guru
ZoppoProg LanguagesMaster
chaauQuery SyntaxMaster
mankowitzQuery SyntaxMaster
oBdAStorage MiscMaster
ArneLoviusSwitches / HubsGuru
AkinsdSwitches / HubsMaster
SouljaSwitches / HubsSage
mikebernhardtSwitches / HubsWizard
butterskVB ScriptMaster
rspahitzVB ScriptMaster
tagitVB ScriptMaster
padasWeb Dev SoftwareMaster
jason1178Web MarketingMaster
Ray_PaseurWeb ServersGuru
rbarnhardtWindows 2003 ServerGuru
Spec01Windows 2003 ServerGuru
ged325Windows 2003 ServerMaster
pradeep08_81Windows 7Master
joewinogradWindows 8Master
piyushranusriWindows Server 2008Master
breadtanWindows Server 2008Wizard
hanccockaWindows Server 2012Guru