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EENewsletter Header -- Your Technology Problems...SOLVED

DECEMBER 22, 2010


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

The Window Is Open
You'll get your money's worth if you know who to ask

More News and Notes
Half a billion friends can't be wrong

Nata's Corner
Sparkly things, Facebook and lots of lists

Tip From The Mods
To post or not to post

Who did what through Dec. 18


Alas, poor Yorick: Because Internet Explorer 6 usage accessing Experts Exchange has dropped dramatically low in the last 6 months we have decided to stop supporting it officially as a browser. We still may make a few IE6 specific tweaks here and there, but our encouragement to you is to upgrade to the latest Internet Explorer, Firefox, or Chrome browser on your Operating System platform of choice. It is time to upgrade, people.

For those who know more about our Question system, we have deprecated the Open for Discussion comments, making them a part of our regular comment type.

Los Angeles meet-up: Put some names to faces by joining Experts Exchange at a mini-conference on January 11 at the Downtown Marriott Hotel in Los Angeles. Administrators, Moderators, Experts and staff will show you the ins and outs of new features, so bring your laptop, netbook or mobile device and get some hands-on instruction. Space is limited for each of two sessions (one in the morning, and one after lunch), so reserve your spot today.

New poll: Please take our holiday poll -- it's short and sweet.

Badges: Earlier this year, we held a contest promoting community-created EE badges for placement on personal websites, blogs or social media sites. Experts like theodorejsalvo sent us the badges they created for their personal websites, making the contest a great success! The response from the community moved the folks at the Experts Exchange office to create our own member badges, and if you haven't already grabbed one for yourself, here's how:

  • Log in and click on the Edit Profile button under My Account.
  • Click the For Experts tab.
  • Select either the standard (Certified Expert Badge) or customized (Custom Expert Badge) badge.
  • If you chose the standard badge, copy the code next to the size badge you want and paste it into your site/blog.
  • If you chose the custom badge, select the badge size and options you want to appear.
  • Click the Create Certified Expert Badge button to create your code.

Kudos: Not related to Experts Exchange, but definitely worth noting is the story of Katie Goldman. Merry Christmas, Katie! Also, and don't go prejudging this, an introduction to the Exchange Server Remote Connectivity Analyzer.

Received at the office from knowlton:

While talking with one of your Customer Support staff today, I realized that EE has been a critical part of my career. I've been a member of EE for many years now, and as my knowledge has grown, EE has been there for me, both helping me and even teaching me better ways to do things. I usually get 2 or 3 different approaches to solving the problem, both simple as well as moderately complex, but all viable and usually resulting in an acceptable solution. And thanks to your "Question History" I've been able to find past answered questions when similar problems arise that I think I've asked about before. Your experts have saved me probably hundreds of hours in time, and therefore, money.

I sing your praises to anyone who will listen. I am also heartened to discover that most people in the IT community that I speak to, whether it be during a job interview or while chatting with co-workers ... have heard of Experts Exchange! And you are often on the first page when I search on Yahoo or Google for additional help. I cannot think of any online community that I have been a member of for as long as I have been a member of EE. Part of that longevity is the professionalism I encounter when I ask a question. The experts who reply realize that we all start somewhere, and they are able to set ego aside and help me out. I appreciate the time and effort they put forth!

Thank you ... here's to another 7 or 8 years, or however long it has been!

OceanStars needed some help figuring out how to create a dynamic chart range in Excel, and got some quick help from teylyn, who also made the whole project a lot easier: "You are beyond amazing!!!! I was hoping you'd find this question! Thanks so much teylyn.. I think you are far above genius... ;-) Happy Holidays!!!!"

Another email to the office, from a member who didn't use the form, so we don't know his username:

I am not a professional programmer. My primary job is in the field of aviation, but our organization requires us to wear many hats so I learned programming. For the last 18 years I worked in a remote part of the world where computer programming was not a common commodity and therefore there wasn't much in the way of help. I discovered your site about 6 years ago and it has been a primary source of learning and practical help. With your help, I have become proficient enough with Access, Word, Excel, Outlook, VB6, VBA, and VB.Net to produce many key programs that have enhanced not only the productivity, but also the safety of our flight departments around the world. Please convey my deep appreciation to everyone who has had a hand with your service.

The prospect of building an inventory control system was a bite a little bigger than joynereh could chew, but he got a lot of pointers in the right direction from roycasella, kdart301, Bidonet and boag2000; there's also a nice discussion of why the use of email to solve a problem is discouraged: "I really appreciate everyone's help! Thank you so much... it's difficult when you're a newbie, have no experience and no budget. Everything (and I mean everything) has fallen on me to do... at least there are people out here in the IT field that are willing to help! LOL Now, if you were to give me a network issue, need a switch or router config-ed, I could help you out!"

winstonrags was having trouble with some HP DVD player software. MASQUERAID found him a solution: "This solution worked perfectly. I downloaded and installed the fix and my HP DVD Play program now works. This Paid for my membership in Experts Exchange -- It saved me $170. Thank you EE."

RadiallAdmin was fighting with getting a remote desktop to work. Several Experts, including victornegri, dariusg, Juliancito and leew worked throughout the day before arriving at the solution: "This is why I purchased this program. Not only did I learn; the help did not quit until the problem was resolved."

MASQUERAID and Tolomir joined forces to give samiam41 some ideas for why an online game kept crashing: "I did some testing on this and not sure I made the changes correctly but I am emailing Ed to see if he can contact the developer. Let me ask the experts, if you all are eager to close this out and move on, I can accept your suggestions and push forward. If you don't mind this staying open, I won't close it out. I just didn't want to keep you all from other questions. Thanks again for all of your help and vast gaming knowledge! Thanks again for your help and assistance with this. It's been a pleasure working with you two super EE beings and hope to again."

The Window Is Open

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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.

When people who know both of us ask me what my youngest brother is doing nowadays, my flip answer is that he counts quarters for a living -- something that, after a decade or so in the casino business, he does fairly well; before he changed companies a while ago, his company emails included "Slot Machine Analysis" below his name. The Facebooks and Googles of the world have nothing on the people who run casinos; they have been tracking players' spending habits -- although the technology has improved substantially over the past decade or two -- for a very long time; they're sophisticated, and considering his hometown of Las Vegas has taken a pretty big hit from both neighboring states' legalizing gaming and a prolonged recession, they're doing pretty well at it -- and he is one of the people who keeps his company's information relevant.

For anyone who has been to almost any casino, you know you are encouraged (in some places, it is state law) to get a player's card that looks like a credit card, complete with magnetic stripe. When you put it in the machine (or hand it over to a card dealer), the record of your bet is tabulated. There are certainly perks for letting the casino know what and how much you play; the casino near us gives us a nice break on gasoline, and since we're not in a metropolitan area, the price of fuel probably matters to people who drive out here and spend their money. The casino -- it being a casino, after all -- wins a lot more than we do, but at least we know we'll be able to drive home. We have gotten emails telling us we can get a nice room inexpensively; what's interesting is that while I usually pay the hotel bill, my wife is the one getting the offers. Why? Because she plays machines, so there is a lot more information about how much she gambles.

But it's the other side of the information transaction where the real gold is. It's nice that XYZ Hotel wants us to come stay again, and they're willing to discount or comp a room to enable it... but we're just one couple, and there are millions of people who pass through Las Vegas every year; like us, most of them aren't there more than once or twice, but when you add us together, we're a pretty good statistical universe from which to extract not only money, but information as well. You wouldn't think it matters much, but there is very little about why people will put more money into a machine if it's located here as opposed to over there, or if it shows this set of characters as opposed to that set of characters, that my brother doesn't know or can't figure out. He also knows what to do when numbers act in expected, but not necessarily predictable ways. Just as data will tell you what today's receipts are, it will also tell you when you should start thinking about changing things around a little.

It's all information, and more than almost any other industry, people vote with their wallets, so you know that at some level, for most people, it matters. That the casinos guard their information with as much vigor as does a bank or hospital tells you that the data is pretty important to them as well. Moving a bank of six or eight games ten feet closer to (or further from) the restroom, or an elevator, or the front desk, can mean tens of thousands of dollars. Per machine. Per day.

But what we find most fascinating is that, according to an article in MIT's Technology Review, betting by employees can be a better predictor of product success than the prognostications of marketing departments and ivory-tower executives -- sorry about that, folks. It shouldn't be a huge surprise as to why, though.

Gamblers pay attention -- at least, those who aren't seriously addicted do. Horse race players study everything from track conditions to how the horse ran last time to who the jockey is. Dice players look for hot shooters and hot tables. Poker players look for "tells". The ones who make a living at it, though, are the ones who manage every dime like it's their last. In the case of the video games engineers, it's perfectly reasonable they would know what will cause players problems; after all, they developed them. They know what beta testers -- given limited time and limited familiarity with the game -- will score on it on average. The marketing folks? They know that the box looks cool and maybe that the price point is competitive but profitable if it reaches a certain level of sales.

Now, before you go looking for a job at some big videogame company, it's all play money. But if you have been paying attention at all the last year or so, we have written a lot about conversations with customers (and employees), and the seemingly contradictory essays by 37signals that argue you don't have to do everything your customers want you to do. And that's where counting quarters comes in. The problem is that, as the estimable Dr. House will tell you, everybody lies; most people will tell you what they think you want to hear, and will leave out what they don't consider relevant. But that's not the case when lots of people are putting lots of quarters into slot machines. It doesn't make a lot of difference what people say; it's what they do that counts.

If you actually engage your customers in a conversation, and if you pay attention to the people on the front lines -- your waitresses or your sales clerks or your cashiers or your customer service people (you know -- the ones who actually interact with the people buying your product or service) -- then only those quarters will tell you more about what works and what doesn't. They don't have a dog in the fight -- they're just hoping business stays good so they have a place to work next month -- but they hear it all.

Their two bits worth may be worth a lot more than that.

Tip From the Moderators

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One of our newer Zone Advisors asked us about the "legality" of posting a link to software that bypasses the security of a piece of software, in this instance an operating system. "Do we allow posts to software which blatantly bypasses OS security?" he asked. "Yes, I know we all know how to find those, but are we in the business of advertising them, as it were?"

Good question. Yes, we know the tool could conceivably be used to bypass someone's security in a sensitive environment, but we do not know that the circumstances in the question are anything other than what the Asker describes -- his own machine that is not part of a domain.

We all assume things at EE every day -- that the Asker has a good reason for wanting a particular SQL query to work, or that he knows what he's doing when he is replacing his processor, or that the code he wants to write is appropriate for the application -- and usually with impressive results; it's really quite astonishing that EE's Experts have solved so many problems without being able to actually see what's happening.

But in doing so, we get close to crossing the line between assumptions and speculation -- and that's where things get a little dangerous. We remove references to a well-known CD because we know it violates the intellectual property rights of the manufacturer, not because it can be used to do things that are improper. But this situation is slightly different, and we can only proceed based on what the Asker actually says. If an Asker dissembles when being asked "why do you want to do this" then the BS detectors go off, and we delete away. I don't think that's the case here. That means we're left with just answering the question as best we can; that, it seems to me, is all the Expert is doing.

A decade ago, EE's Experts were prohibited from posting the technique for bypassing Access's "security" -- even though it was available from hundreds of other sites. However, buried deep in the Help file was the technique, and we started assuming that since Microsoft saw fit to tell people how to do it, it couldn't be expected that people wouldn't do it. This is similar. If it was something Microsoft felt was so dangerous, Microsoft would have built its systems such that tools like the one noted wouldn't work, or would have released a patch to block it; there is nothing, one suspects, on the disc that is anything other than an automated set of the steps one would have to take manually.

The rule of thumb: as long as the user has to physically touch the computer, it is okay to discuss tools like the one linked.

More News And Notes

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Half a billion friends can't be wrong: Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Faceborg, is Time magazine's "person of the year". Needless to say, there were a few people who had to make sure it didn't go to his head. Two pretty big shots will be waiting in the wings to prevent it, though: Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, whose "Giving Pledge" Zuckerberg signed a week or so ago. We're not inclined to take back a lot of the things we've written about Facebook and Zuckerberg, but we'll give him credit for a noble gesture.

On modus_operandi's wish list: It won't make the internet-enabled 2x4, but it will make a plastic replica of one.

Never have so many panicked... about so little. We'll get to our take on Wikileaks in a sec, but first, a nod to ElrondCT, who pointed out that in the jumble of links on the subject we were trying to keep straight last issue, we transposed a thought, saying that the Wall St. Journal and CNN had asked for money; Wikileaks, which actually needed it once MasterCard and Visa stopped allowing payments to the site (followed over the weekend by Bank of America) asked for payment under "certain circumstances". He also asked what our take on the leaked cables is; so far, nothing we've read has even come as a surprise, including the accusations against, evasion by and eventual arrest of and bail for Wikileaks boss Julian Assange, and his selection by online voters as Time's person of the year.

To us, the real story is one that would make Tom Clancy blush. We've never really been into the idea that the government pulls all kinds of strings in order to keep its citizenry controlled -- at least, not in the US, if only because there are a gazillion examples of waste, fraud and incompetence as evidence that it isn't capable of that -- but when it walks, swims and quacks, one begins to think it might be a duck. But we find it fascinating that while the US government, at least officially, is mostly trying to block access from government computers (or, in other words, keep its own people from reading what it is writing -- "Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain."), while -- at a minimum -- "giving tacit approval" to the people trying to take down Wikileaks' servers. More entertaining still is the reaction from the people who think information should be freely available: DDoS attacks against the companies that have stopped accepting donations to Wikileaks, and governments going after the Anonymous people behind the attacks... but we still haven't seen anything other than a few blushes from a few people offended by having their words made public.

And really, what difference has all of this made? We've learned that one individual whose face has been plastered all over the world can evade an intense search for weeks (Assange turned himself in, as opposed to being caught). We've learned that the US government doesn't think much of some other countries' leaders. We've learned that almost anyone can take down a website with enough computers and some freely-available software. We've learned that nobody can control the internet without taking the whole thing down, by which time that will be the least of our problems. We've been reminded that there is incredible hypocrisy in the attitudes of any number of politicians, who decry the breach of secrecy and allow spying on the citizens of their country while trying to prevent others from doing the same things.

Ultimately, as long as people are willing to type into a computer, and as long as computers are connected to one another, privacy is a myth we should probably abandon. Santa Claus makes more sense.

Did anyone bring lunch? Sorry, Jason -- but even the mess created when the President flies into LAX for lunchtime fundraiser on a Monday after a three-day weekend pales compared to what the Russians go through.

We don't want to say "we told you so..." When we first saw the title of the Yahoo press release, we were certain that our suggestion, made a couple of years ago when Carol Bartz was hired to take over as CEO, that she and Yahoo were in for a long hard road that would end badly, was coming true in a big way. The leak of an internal memo seemed to indicate that Yahoo was going to be selling off big chunks of itself, but we guess not -- yet, according to the company; rather, it is going to "cut its investment" in products like AltaVista, MyBlogLog and Yahoo Buzz. This came two days after Yahoo laid off another 600 people... but the good news is that other tech firms are hiring.

eBay Rule No. 1: Get that old watch appraised.

No matter what they decide, someone is going to change it: A vote by the Federal Communications Commission scheduled December 21 on a proposal on net neutrality came too late for our deadline, but it's a pretty good bet that even if it passed, it will annoy enough people and have enough flaws that it will be revisited by Congress when the new session starts in January, because when two big companies start duking it out over what a third big company does that other big companies have an interest in stopping, then Everybody Goes To Washington. When push comes to shove, though, technology will win.

New game: We've checked; our prejudices notwithstanding, EE isn't the smartest site on the Internet. But we have a prize for the verifiably ... umm... "most basic" site. Send us your nominations.

In requiem: Blake Edwards, who brought successive generations film icons like Peter Sellers in The Pink Panther, Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast At Tiffany's and Dudley Moore in 10, died last week.

Maybe they learned something from that whole MySpace affair: Wouldn't it be something if Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. was the outfit that figured out what most big news organizations never have: how to make money without killing trees. News Corp. is preparing to sell an iPad "daily newspaper", and it addresses the problem most newspapers have had in the clearest way possible. Newspapers, since the dawn of the web, have had (at least) three problems: how to control their customer base, selling content that is available elsewhere at no charge, and a business model based on high costs of production (paper/ink, personnel and delivery). To make their product viable, they have had to generate revenue via advertising, but the only company who really has this whole "ads on the web -- profitably" thing down pat is Google, and Google wants a big slice of the pie. This changes the game quite a bit; News Corp is trading technology (Apple's "push" subscription feature) and some of the bookkeeping functions (billing for subscriptions) over to Apple, but will have control over who sees its news product (we won't go there -- the question of whether Mr. Murdoch's information is balanced and fair isn't relevant). You can bet that all of the big news companies are watching intently.

Signs of the Apocalypse: All we're going to say about it is that it involves a hacked Kinect. And can someone please tell us whether this or this is a worse nightmare?

Nata's Corner

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Nata iPad nanoMy other half said that he thought about getting me one of these -- he knows I like sparkly things -- but he also said that there's no guarantee that it won't drop calls. He also asked if I wanted the iPad nano, an idea he got from Vee_Mod. Gee, thanks.

I've been having second thoughts about being a member of Facebook lately. It's not so much the security and privacy stuff that bothers me, because as you might guess, I read a lot of newsletters and I pay attention to my settings. It's more about all the stuff I'm getting. It's one thing to be hearing from people I don't see every day (like my son) or seeing childhood photographs of my other half posted by his mother, but it's another thing entirely to get constant updates from people I have met once (like an old friend of my other half) who are posting constantly. I don't want to offend someone by "de-friending" them, but I sure don't want to end up like Stan -- or the deputy sheriff caught playing Farmville on the taxpayers' nickel (it's in the comments).

If you're reading this and haven't finished all your holiday shopping... good luck. The USPS shuts down early on Christmas Eve, and if you waited until Monday to send off your Christmas cards, they're probably going to be late unless you send them via FedEx. But that doesn't mean you can't have some fun looking at lists of things you could have gotten someone:

I've also put together a few other lists of things you might want to look through:

That should keep you all out of trouble for a while, but if not, I've also found the following time sinks for the next couple of days weeks; since it's the holiday season, productivity is probably going to sink to record lows over the next week and a half anyway, so we're here to do our part to promote it. There's always Experts Exchange, but we do understand that there's down time while you're waiting for notifications and such. Jason has found his "Queen of All Geeks" and his nomination for the worst website ever. Haters are ubiquitous, which is one of our favorite words. Go home for the holidays. Google graphs words. A new take on an old gag. Almost anything at ranker.com.

I'll see you all next year!


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New Geniuses: matthewspatrick became the second member of Experts Exchange to earn his ninth Genius certificate, this one in SQL Server 2005. cyberkiwi's fourth Genius certificate, and third in less than a month, is in SQL Query Syntax. mplungjan has earned his second Genius certificate, in Scripting Languages. Congratulations to all!

Of note: A special tip of the hat to long time member objects, who changed his profile earlier this month to include the following: "In the spirit of the Christmas season I will be answering 25 point questions in the "New to Java" zone all December."

  • leew has earned over 13,000,000 points since joining EE in August 1997.
  • objects has reached the 14,000,000 point level in Java Programming. Only two other members of EE -- capricorn1 and Sembee -- have that many points in a single topic area.
  • TheLearnedOne reached the 4,000,000 point level in ASP.NET. He is only the third member of EE to reach 4,000,000 points in two different TAs, and is one of two to have 2,000,000 points in each of five different TAs.
  • mlmcc has gone over 12,000,000 points in the Crystal Reports TA.
  • BlueDevilFan has become the 22nd member of EE to reach 10,000,000 points overall.
  • DatabaseMX reached the 8,000,000 point level for his career at EE; he also reached that level in the Microsoft Access TA.
  • demazter has earned 4,000,000 points in the Exchange Server TA, which is third best all time. CodeCruiser reached the same level in the VB.NET TA.
  • alanhardisty and Infinity08 both reached the 5,000,000 point level for their careers at EE.
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