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Your Technology Problems...SOLVED

NOVEMBER 24, 2010 - Happy Thanksgiving!


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

The Coherency Imperative
It's more than having your **** together

Nata's Corner
The TSA, lists and a new browser

Tip From The Mods
Grading -- and changing grades

More News and Notes
Another step to assimilation

Who did what through November 20


New Feature: One of the most comprehensive rewrites in EE's recent history was released last week: the text formatting system is now the same for all parts of the site, including questions, comments, articles and blogs. Major props for a) getting it done and b) not letting the Admins pressure him into getting it done more quickly go to CPColin for a virtually pristine piece of work.

Experts Exchange staff wins basketball championshipMajor props:Newly crowned champions of the Arroyo Grande D-2 Recreational Basketball League is the team make up of staffers from the Experts Exchange staff. The back row is "Ed The Ringer", hoekman23, dgadair and jdake; in front are tonjappr, bobexpert and mstanford12. Congratulations, gentlemen; we'll see if we can dig up some Badger t-shirts for you.

Also, a hearty congratulations to John and Beverly Claud of EE's administrative staff, who became grandparents to Lauren on November 3. EE's newest member of the family checked in at 8 lbs, 2 oz and was 21.5 inches long.

New Zone Advisors: Two members of Experts Exchange have joined the Zone Advisor group: teylyn, who will be helping out in the Microsoft Office topic areas, and DrUltima, who joins the team of people in the Microsoft Servers zones. Welcome aboard!

Sign up a friend. Pocket 25 bucks. No one knows the value of Experts Exchange like you. Now you get $25 for spreading the good word. Join the Business Account Partner Program and receive a $25 Visa gift card for every Business Account license you refer to Experts Exchange, up to 100 licenses. While anyone in any country can sign up for a Business Account, only Qualified Experts, Premium Service members and Business Account licensees in the United States are eligible to join the Partner Program and receive Visa gift cards for their referrals.

To EE members outside the States, don't worry! Experts Exchange is working on a way for you to benefit from the Partner Program. We'll keep you posted! More information about the Partner Program can be found here. Join today and start earning!

Expert badges: Since the Expert Badges program launched three months ago, nearly 1700 of you have showcased your expertise and put a Certified Expert badge on your website. For those of you who haven't taken the opportunity to highlight your achievements yet, go to the For Experts tab on your Experts Exchange profile and choose either the standard badge or customize your own. Copy the code for your badge of choice and paste it onto your site or blog to show that you're a trusted tech expert.

Kudos: Sometimes, Experts get stumped. Such was the case in Forehand's question about reading Unicode files; evilrix gave it a shot but ultimately Forehand figured out a solution. That didn't stop him from posting the following: "Evilrix truly deserves his genius rating and in addition should get an Angel rating because he helped me so much. (But maybe that would cancel out Evil?) I spoke to a representative to give advice on how to grade. I wanted to give fewer points and an A grade because there is no complete solution in the sense that there is no easy way to get encoding from a file. Everything that Evilrx said was true, but didn't work for me because UltraEdit hex representation of my file didn't match the way it was actually stored. I decided it was easier to control the way the files were written which I CAN control rather than to spend the effort modifying an older app to be able to read and detect everything."

As is often the case, the mere act of writing out a question causes the proverbial light bulb to go on, which is what happened to KarenPRuskin in her question about an Access error message. Advised by Zone Advisor JDettman that she could accept her own comment as an answer, she wrote: "Thanks for letting me know that I can "accept my own comment as the answer". I absolutely value this Experts Exchange site, use it my sole resource as I'm kind of an ACCESS loner in the company I work for. It's like having a whole lot of colleagues available for when I run out of my own steam."

neviller2 was having some problems getting a Windows 7 script to work until Tolomir found a tiny flaw in the script. neviller2's response: "Thanks Tolomir, for your help. It was the test machine I had setup. The Script now works. Sometimes the easiest solution is the hardest to find."

Tip from the Moderators

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Grading -- and changing grades

Disclaimer: Like it or not, how you grade the solutions you get from Experts is going to be a factor in whether you get responses to future questions.

Having said that, we like to think that the people who use Experts Exchange are generally pretty smart people. They know when someone has helped them out with a tough problem -- and if it weren't a tough problem (at least for them) they wouldn't be asking the question in the first place. If they're answering questions, they know when they've given a really good answer, and when they've given one that is little more than a quick search during a coffee break.

Our expectation is that if you ask a question and get an accurate solution to the original question that you will grade it accordingly. Our experience is that occasionally, that doesn't happen for any number of reasons:

  • The asker asks a follow-up question that gets a response like "I've answered your question."
  • The asker posts 371 lines of code and says "fix it."
  • The Expert posts a "blind" link -- a URL that has no explanation.

When that happens, someone is likely to click the Request For Attention button, and we will be asked to change the grade. That is not going to happen automatically. We will review, and we may or may not take an action:

  • We will change the grade.
  • We won't change the grade.
  • We will ask for an explanation from the asker as to why the specific grade was given.
  • We will ask for an explanation from the Expert why his answer should get a better grade. ("Because I said so" won't get the grade changed, by the way.)

We will look at your request on its merits; you don't get special treatment for being the top Expert, or for having 25 paying accounts. Our job is to make sure everyone gets treated fairly -- and our one guarantee is that we will treat you (and everyone else) that way.

The Coherency Imperative

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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.

Art Kleiner of strategy+business wrote an article a couple of weeks ago that invited readers to take a survey developed by Booz & Co. that tells how coherent your business is. In reading through Mr. Kleiner's review of The Essential Advantage: How to Win with a Capabilities-Driven Strategy, by Paul Leinwand and Cesare Mainardi (Harvard Business Press, 2010), one thinks about a variety of companies and comes to the inescapable conclusion that most businesses are pretty incoherent.

Coherence, Mr. Kleiner says, is a lot more than just "having your act together;" in order to be coherent -- and thereby positioned to be successful -- the business has to be "resolutely focussed" on

  • Market position -- how it stacks up against others who do what it does;
  • Distinctive capabilities -- what makes it stand out, and how those capabilities work together; and
  • Its products and services -- a list that maximizes the capabilities and market position.

We will grant that, if you look at the survey, the people Booz and Co. want to address are the big boys out there: the Hewlett-Packards, the Fords and the Universal Studios. For one thing, smaller businesses aren't usually in the mergers and acquisitions market -- and if you don't answer the question, the survey tells you to do so anyway, even if you have to lie about it. There are a couple of other questions that don't give you more than a yes/no option ("Is this way to create value understood by your customers and employees?"); we know of a lot of businesses where the answer is "no and maybe", but that's not a choice.

Still, Mr. Kleiner does list what the authors say coherence will bring to one's company:

  • Effectiveness, meaning that a company puts its resources into not just the products and services that give the company the best chance to succeed, but also puts it into its own internal systems;
  • Efficiency, meaning that instead of having (for example) accounting departments for each division, the company has a consistent, uniform system throughout.
  • Focused investment, meaning that the company puts its resources into those capabilities that differentiate it, as opposed to those capabilities that equate to "me, too."
  • Alignment, meaning that the company clearly articulates, not just to its employees but its customers as well, what it does -- and that forms the basis for all decision-making.

One has to be a little liberal in one's definitions to put that into the context of small- and medium-sized businesses, but the same rules apply. It's not enough to "have your act together"; nobody cares if you think you know what you want to do if you can't communicate it to both the people who have to do the work -- your employees -- and the people who you're dependent on -- your customers.

Running a business -- in case you haven't been reading the papers for the last couple of years -- is tough. You can be the best furniture store/restaurant/plumber in town, but if your employees aren't buying it, and your customers are getting the message from your employees, then it's a good bet that someone will come along to compete with you. There's nothing wrong with competition; most of the time, having someone competing with you doesn't make your slice of the pie appreciably smaller; it makes the pie bigger. But if you want to maintain your market position, you have to look at what you're doing, and ask yourself "is what we're doing the best we can do for our customers?"

Most people don't ask; for that matter, most people don't realize (until it's too late) that they can ask, and that they can answer "no, it's not." Ask the good people from GM who decided that investing in an entire division to build Hummers about that. Not only were they already in a bit of trouble because they were up to their elbows in a lot of bad loans through their financing division; they then went out and decided to build big huge gas guzzlers at a time when gasoline prices were on the rise. Brecht might as well have said "Grub first, then extravagences."

That's a decision that wasn't made by the factory workers in Shreveport (who were probably happy to have the jobs); it was made at the top. But it's a pretty good bet that the people in Shreveport knew that most people weren't going to be able to afford to drive the cars they were building -- had anyone stopped to ask them.

Coherence is a three-way conversation that requires that decision-makers, staff and customers -- three distinct groups whose interests overlap but whose responsibilities in the conversation are mutually exclusive -- recognize their role and focus on it, and communicate their vision of the task at hand to the other two groups. The restaurant owner creates the menu based on what customers buy, and hires a staff to cook and deliver it; the chefs and waiting staff prepare it and deliver it promptly; and the customers order what they want to eat. If any of those three groups fails -- so does the business. More importantly, if any of those groups tries to usurp the task of any of the other two, it's a recipe for disaster.

That's not to say that Bobby Flay needs to put every suggestion from every customer on the menu at the Mesa Grill. His clientele knows the food he likes to prepare, and those that can't handle chipotle peppers probably aren't among them. But it is his job to pay attention to what his customers are buying and what they aren't. His creativity and leadership aren't so much focused on whether or not to put chicken on the menu as much as they are on whether it can be integrated into the menu, complementing the rest of his bill of fare. Similarly, his staff is going to tell him why roller blades -- though they may be unique to a Fifth Avenue restaurant -- won't work, and he'd be foolish to ignore them.

That emphasis on a coherent vision has rarely been more evident than it was last week, when Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook, announced "Messages", a unified system incorporating SMS, instant messaging and email as part of his network's offerings. It takes what people want, puts them in one place -- and not all all coincidentally, gives his company a ton of data to analyze, letting him target advertising directly to the half a billion people who have signed up for his service. He was able to communicate that experience clearly and in context to a staff of 15 engineers who put it all together in a little over a year. Will it be popular? Mr. Zuckerberg says that two-thirds of his customers already use Facebook's existing messaging service; what he's doing is simply the next logical step.

That's coherence.

More News and Notes

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Another step to assimilation: Faceborg announced that email is "showing its age" (where have we heard that before, because apparently, AOL disagrees) and that it would be offering its own service, called "Messages" that integrates email with instant messaging and SMS. There's no question as to why the company would embark on such a mission: money. There's also no question that a lot of people are going to be worried about the big roadblocks in Mark Zuckerborg's quest to be The Internet: privacy and safety.

Resisting assimilation is Google, which tweaked its Terms of Service so you can't import Google contacts into Facebook. Not so determined is MySpace, which will allow its members to log in using their Facebook IDs.

The Thirty Second Review: Courtesy of demazter: The new Harry Potter film has a lot to offer anyone who likes sinister. There are teacher-eating snakes, one of the twins being maimed and Hermione being tortured -- and since we know this is part 1 of 2, it's no surprise that Voldemort winds up being ready to wreak havoc on the world. See it -- especially if you like special effects and the escapism of unreality; besides, the lead characters are better-looking than EE's Admins are.

How To Take Your Nice Little Magazine And Turn Not Only It But Your Own Reputation As A Publisher Into A Steaming Pile Of Doo-Doo In Less Than A Week: First, steal other people's work, and second, blame the author. The results are predictable and the advice you will get on avoiding a repetition printable, so you can tape it to the wall of whatever non-computer-related job you're able to get.

Feel good story for the holidays: A superhero grandmother.

Hey! Here's how we can make some coin! After suffering the slings and arrows of jealous wannabes who aren't getting the venture capital attention it has been getting, Twitter has come up with a concrete way of improving its balance sheet: it is going to sell its data to other people who will in turn sell it to other people. One piece of information certain to be included: your super double top-secret reputation score (one can only wonder what someone like Alyssa Milano's is). One thing is certain, though: depending on where you are, as with any other social site, you should be careful what you twit.

The Beatles library of music released on iTunesAll I want for Christmas is Abbey Road on my iPod: With one iconic image on its home page, Apple started selling Beatles music, not quite half a century after the group released its first album and appeared on US television. What's more scary is that your humble editor remembers the first rock concert he attended (thanks, Mom!). Still, the world isn't completely right with Apple; they still don't have anything by Garth Brooks or AD/DC.

In requiem: Xserve (Apple's server line, for the non-fanboys out there), and film producer Dino De Laurentiis. Circling the drain: the white pages of the phone book, at least around Washington DC.

See, America? The EU has money issues, too: We've had items fairly frequently about "Net Neutrality" -- which is a code meaning "can the government keep big providers like Comcast, Time-Warner and AT&T from charging higher rates for higher bandwidth users (read: Google, Yahoo, Skype, et al.)" -- and how every time someone wants to do something, it gets stalled in threatened lawsuits and interference by legislators who are getting campaign donations. That's fine; Judge Tucker's admonition regarding the safety of life, liberty and property is still valid. But Americans are not alone in this discussion; the European Union is meeting this week in Brussels to have the same discussions. Note to EU Internet users: don't expect to hear anything new; just expect a lot of talk.

Yeah, but Steve and Carol say there are 350,000,000 of them: Don't ask me; my father is Li Gang. So what if they jail journalists and Nobel peace prize winners, embargoed the rare earth elements used in high tech devices and monkeyed around with Internet traffic? They have the world's fast computer (sort of), and they have 350,000,000 potential customers... (which makes a zombie attack seem like serendipity...)

We'll wait to see the Dell version: IBM has put together a group of Yale and UC Santa Barbara reearchers to start looking at the possibilites of quantum computing. We can just see MASQUERAID licking his chops over a new gaming machine. Speaking of games (and the need for quantum computing), you can try to fix the US federal budget.

Just make sure you take your shoes off: If you're planning on flying anywhere between now and January 2, you can take advantage of a WiFi connection during the flight, courtesy of Google, as long as you're on an AirTran, Delta or Virgin America plane. It'll be a lot easier if you just got a nice raise, too. Or you can stay home, away from the crush of stressed-out holiday travelers who are missing connections because of the weather and dealing with the TSA.

Wink, wink: "Officials" still haven't figured out where Stuxnet came from, but they're also saying grudgingly that it's a pretty nice piece of work if you like that kind of thing.

So where's that ANY key again? Rule number 1 if you are a high-level corporate executive who wants to find out what people are saying about your company's controversial activities: Don't try to join a private discussion group by hiding behind a Gmail account if you don't know anything about how email works. Similarly, if you're a hacker who has been caught with drugs in your apartment (along with 114,000 SIM card serial numbers of iPad users), don't go sending "hugs and courage" to the guy prosecuting you.

But will it see the alien ships before they blow up the White House? John Tonry, a University of Hawaii astronomer, has a plan to build an early warning system for asteroids on a collision path toward Earth. We have more faith in Bruce Willis.

WTF? OMG! Ben Schott has much more entertaining list of words that can be used in place of phrases.

Signs of the Apocalypse: The FDA and FTC are cracking down on caffeinated drinks, destroying productivity at software companies nationwide. The National Labor Relations Board said that a woman fired for ripping her boss on Facebook had to be rehired because it could be construed as a step to organizing a union. Research into the typical smartphone user. Someone sold (and someone else bought!) a non-existent piece of property for $335,000. Bonus: a real sign (if you're in California).

Nata's Corner

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Nata's PictureMaybe it's the holidays coming, but one thing is for sure: I'm John Tyner's biggest fan right about now. The people out there who know me know that my picture at left isn't that accurate (I have blonde hair); among other things, I also have knees that set off metal detectors like this woman, so I've been going through pat down searches in airports for quite a while, and there have been a few in which the TSA person seemed a little too frisky for my own tastes... and they may even be illegal.

Probably trying to put out what might be a wildfire of good old fashioned civil disobedience at airports around the country over the next few days, the TSA announced that it is dialing back some of its searches and scans (which is great if you're a pilot who is carrying a biometric ID card), but that hasn't stopped the Twitteropolis from having a field day with the agency. There's even a movie, and it's a reasonable bet that Michael Moore has a script in the works for one, too.

But there is hope: Orlando's Sanford International Airport has opted out of having TSA screeners. I'm going to Disney World!

My annual public service is this week: a list of tech products, Black Friday sites and other information, just to get you in the holiday spirit before your editor starts running the annual Experts Exchange Gift Guide:

Finally, for all you Facebook fans out there, there is a browser built with you in mind. Built on the Chromium engine, it is backed by the people who brought you Netscape -- the first entry (and casualty) in the browser wars of the last century.


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New Geniuses: One of Experts Exchange's seasoned veterans has picked up his fourth Genius certificate, while two other Experts picked up their first. sdstuber's fourth million point t-shirt came in Oracle 9.x. ikalmar and broomee9 eached earned their first Genius certificates in Routers and MS Excel respectively. Well done!


  • jkr became the seventh member of Experts Exchange to reach 13,000,000 points overall.
  • RobWill has earned 9,000,000 points since joining EE.
  • johnb6767 set the bar for entry into the Top 50 at 6,000,000 points by becoming the 49th member of EE to reach that level.
  • cyberkiwi has reached 5,000,000 points overall.
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