Missing Recycle Bin

“Hey Luke, you know about this computer stuff, right?”

If there is anything in the world I truly hate, it is this precise sentence. I’m honestly considering inventing some fake profession for myself, so I don’t have to tell people I work in the technology sector. Let’s face it, nothing good can possibly come out from admitting that you are a techie in a crowd composed of technophobes. You would think that it would earn you some respect with them, but it does not. Admitting that you understand how computers work is basically like saying “I give free tech support 24-7, especially on the weekends – call me about anything”. Seriously.

So my plan is this – I will move away somewhere where no one knows me, and tell people I meet that I’m a professional thatcher or something like that. This way I will never again need to do free tech support.

An acquittance cornered me recently and opened up with that very phrase. My immediate instinct was to try to open the nearest window and jump out to escape this assault. Granted, I was pretty high up but I figured that I could probably survive the fall with couple compound fractures and a massive concussion which would probably be preferable to helping this guy. Unfortunately the windows did not open on that floor.

To make a long story short, this guy “lost” his recycle bin icon. This is not unusual – sometimes that particular desktop icon goes away for whatever reason. Vista and Win7 actually have a mechanism that allows you to restore it at any time buried down somewhere in the desktop customization panels. XP however does not have that, and so you usually need to end up using something like the official Tweak UI power toy to get it.

Or you can just send the person to this knowledge base article. This is precisely what I did. I sent him an email with that link, and asked him to try it out. Unfortunately this was slightly beyond his comfort zone, and after about 4 or 5 rounds of emails and a phone call I realized that running a simple MSI file that requires you to click next a few times is beyond his capabilities.

So I manually made a registry file that would be created by this fix, and sent that to him figuring out that double clicking on an attachment and choosing Yes will be somewhat easier than clicking next 3 or 4 times. I mean I figured the less clicks he has to make, the less chances he has to screw it up. But that didn’t work either, because Outlook blocks .reg attachments for security reasons.

Renaming the file did not work either because, after about 6 emails I sort of gave up on the idea of explaining to this guy how to rename a file.

I tried assisting him remotely using both crossloop.com and join.me but his security software promptly blocked these apps from accessing the internet. I tried to get him to unblock them, but the conversation went something like this:

“Do you have McAfee, Norton or something else?”
“Ok, but which one? Do you maybe see an red M icon or a yellow globe next to the clock?”
“The clock?”
“Yes, in the bottom right corner of your screen. There should be bunch of icons next to it”
“Bunch of what now?”
“Little pictures and symbols next to where it shows the time”
“Ok, what about them?”
“Can you describe them?”
“No. How do I describe them? I don’t know this computer stuff, I told you that.”
“Well, does any of them look like an M?”
“What the hell is an Anem? Luke, I’m computer illiterate you can’t just throw these computer terms at me.”
“No, a letter M as in Mary”
“Oh… No. Wait… No, I don’t think so. I’m not sure. Is there another way to check?”
“Alright, let’s try this – go to Start, All Programs…”
Woha, hold on… You are way ahead of me. Where do I click first?”
“The Start menu”
“I don’t have that.”

And so it went for another 5 minutes at which point I gave up. So we established that he will just swing by my place the next day and let me take a look at his computer in person.

He brings it in, I power it up, look at his desktop and see the recycle bin icon in the lower left corner of the screen. I point it out to him and he goes:

“Hey… What do you know. I didn’t even look in that corner.”

In retrospect, I should have just jumped out that window. The sweet and merciful embrace of death would probably be preferable to the intense mental anguish this is causing me. I honestly feel that I lost some brain cells because of this. I think some of my neurons just threw up their hands in the air, and just walked out when this happened. Another bundle probably died when I proceed to bang my head against the table for 5 minutes after the guy left.

The moral of this story is this: don’t tell people you are a software engineer. Tell them you are a professional thatcher and/or muskrat breeder. Trust me on this one. It is better that way.

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20 Responses to Missing Recycle Bin

  1. Alphast NETHERLANDS Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    Tell your acquaintances that you are a proctologist… Add a sadistic smile for good measure.

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  2. Victoria UKRAINE Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    muskrat breeder

    that’s great :) you never know what profession somebody would find useful and start asking you stupid questions, so job description should be something crazy or nasty :)

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  3. Phil UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    “Hey… What do you know. I didn’t even look in that corner.”

    My teeth itch from that statement.

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  4. Rob UNITED STATES Google Chrome Windows Terminalist says:

    “Hey… What do you know. I didn’t even look in that corner.”


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  5. Matt` UNITED KINGDOM Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    1. Establish early on that you don’t do tech support for free.
    2. Charge a stupidity tax for time wasters.

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  6. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Linux Terminalist says:

    @ Alphast:

    Yeah, but I’d be scared. What if they start asking me for professional advice anyway? What if they ask me to look at something up their ass real quick? I’d rather not risk that. :P

    Besides, doctors actually have this same problem – people always ask them for free medical advice and drugs.

    @ Victoria:

    Yeah, I figured that a thatcher is fairly safe. I mean, unless they happen to own a cottage with a straw roof they probably won’t ask you for free help.

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  7. Gothmog UNITED STATES Google Chrome Windows Terminalist says:

    Oh, Luke- I feel your pain, brother.

    C’mere lemme give ya a hug.

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  8. mcai8sh4 UNITED KINGDOM Google Chrome Ubuntu Linux Terminalist says:

    I’m proud to admit I’m a Geek – right up until the point that someone then asks me for help! I think you have to choose your pseudo-profession carefully – If you say you’re a Thatcher in England, a Miner will probably hi-five you in the face! Any Medical profession is off limits for the reasons stated above. Anything practical will probably back fire on you at some point. On the flip side, by hiding your passion, you potentially risk meeting someone worth talking to, and learning from – it’s a no win situation.

    The answer? I don’t have one – maybe a proud, yet violent, Geek?

    Fortunately, at least we can all meet at places like this and ‘vent’, safe in the knowledge that we’re not alone.

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  9. Steve Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    I can commisserate:

    My step-daughter calls and tells me she thinks she has a virus. She wanted to watch Raging Bull online, and clicked “ok” to a “few things”. Next thing she knows – she has a virus. I take a look at her machine, and she has a variant of the “Antivirus 2010″…but unlike one I have ever seen before: no registry keys I could find, and an IEXPLORE.EXE process that won’t shut down. Malwarebytes installs, but when running it, it promptly crashes, and trying to rerun it pops up the “You do not have permission to run…blah blah blah”. Couldn’t even run processexplorer.

    I had Ubuntu 10.4.1 on a memory stick all ready to go :) But, she wanted Windows – she “needs” Office. Sigh. Thank god it was a Dell. Hit Ctrl-F11 at bootup and enter the Restore screen. Reinstallled XP, SP3, and then all the latest patches. Took a while, but the machine is clean.

    Then, this afternoon, I get a call from my ex’s friend who has a new machine and needs to do a few things – like create an account for her daughter, and install Office (which she would have to purchase). When I mentioned I could install OpenOffice for free, she sounded like she was panicking. I figured, fuck’it – I’ll just do Office.

    At least she pays me to do this :)

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  10. This is why I tell people how it is when they ask me for help:
    I use Ubuntu now, if you want to switch, I will walk you through the basics, and teach you how to figure things out for yourself.

    I wont install proprietary software unless I do not have an alternative for it.

    If you want to do that, then awesome! I will walk you through it… if you don’t then thats find too but I can’t help you.

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  11. MrJones GERMANY Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    Im always like “Seems like your Windows is broken, that happens to a lot of people. Maybe you should consider buying a new computer”

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  12. copperfish Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux Terminalist says:

    Getting paid isn’t the answer. My time is worth more to me than the rate that tech support services charge. I just tell people to call Dial-a-Nerd.

    I’m with @Travis on the Ubuntu thing. I haven’t had my own Windows machine since 8.04 I don’t even keep Windows related apps and tools on hand. I usually find that most people run in terror if I offer to help them by installing Ubuntu.

    Of course if they do agree you’re in for a worse fate. Yes they won’t get a virus but you’ll get the “I bought Microsoft Publisher to create pretty cards and it won’t install!” and “Where’s Internet Explorer?” support calls.

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  13. Mart SINGAPORE Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    There are some I know who are “software engineers” by job title that ask these kind of dumb questions. :-S

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  14. Sameer NETHERLANDS Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    I have a few standing appointments to visit friends whose computers “just stopped working” or just became very slow for no apparent reason. It’s not their fault I’m sure, they only play those free pokergames. No harm in that right?

    I’ve started using a remote desktop application for my Iphone (Teamviewer) and whenever I help the hopeless I install the desktop client and leave a big shiny shortcut where they can find it. There is a free version. I found it really useful especially if my internet connection is fast enough or on wifi. Saves me quite a bit of time and frustration (most of the time).

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  15. dk UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Mac OS says:

    I think this shit forms a kind of cultural narrative for anyone who happens to have the misfortune of knowing their way around a PC. Maybe a few hundred years ago a decent apprenticeship sufficiently addressed this sort of thing – I’m not sure. Every IT person knows a real Johnny Sumbitch incapable of visiting a website or opening a document without first getting his PC fucked six ways and sideways, contracting a virus, or deleting a critical system file. Count yourselves lucky if the people asking for help are dipshit luddites – once people who really know what they’re doing start calling you for tech support and you find yourself diagnosing obscure kernel load latency issues or worse you will know what it means to be well and truly fucked. If you’re enterprising you might leverage that kind of thing into a career. If you happen to already have one, though, you start contemplating the fascinating world of animal husbandry so friends of friends in some data center on the other side of the goddamn planet aren’t calling you all hours of the day to fix shit they shouldn’t be using if they can’t keep it running. Assholes.

    At least it hasn’t made me bitter.

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  16. MrPete GERMANY Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    Matt` wrote:

    1. Establish early on that you don’t do tech support for free.
    2. Charge a stupidity tax for time wasters.

    THIS is exactly the way I prevent my “friends” from taking me for free electrical works in their homes.
    I tell them what I charge per hour on weekends or after work and everythings fine…

    Next time try this:
    1. Click once (!) on an icon (‘one program symbol’ for illiterates) on the desktop (‘screen’ for total illiterates).
    2. Take the keyboard (without clicking anywhere else)
    3. Type the letters R E C Y
    4. Look which icon (‘program symbol’) is highlighted now.
    Works for me… and a bunch of people that accidentally renamed their Firefox/IE/whatever and didn’t remember where it went but could remember that they named it “Internet Access”…

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  17. Andrew Zimmerman UNITED STATES Google Chrome Windows Terminalist says:

    HEY! What Do You Know!
    Another phrase I become murderous on hearing..

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  18. Dale Davis UNITED STATES Internet Explorer Windows says:

    Ladies and Gentlemen of the Geek bent…Congratulations! You are blessed with trait that I can only goggle at in amazement. I have had a computer since 1985 and still am in the incompetent stage. My mind just isn’t wired to understand computers and the wires I have are rapidly coming unglued as time passes. I have a couple of long suffering gurus who used to ask “Now what did you do?” I have finally convinced them that I don’t know enough to chance experimenting with my machines (yes, I have 4 and with luck, they all add up to one good machine) but still have things happen like being in Outlook Express reading a message in my Dogesy box then clicking on the Choanie box, finishing there and clicking on Dale again and Voila there are no messages. My Guru assured me that they were still in the machine. When pressed, he admitted that he couldn’t find them, but stoutly stood by his statement. OR the many times that my internal network of router and machines suddenly comes unglued and I call him in. He puts everything back in apple pie order. The machine sits there muttering for a few days, then diabolically stops again. This happened over and over again over a period of a year. Even my Guru now speaks in low tones in its presence and makes signs while throwing salt over his left shoulder. Though that problem and others have finally gone away I have finally come to the conclusion that computers are alive and malevolently do their best to confuse, confound and befuddle me at every turn. I believe my Gurus now agree, though they won’t admit such a thing for fear that other mortals will think them mad.

    I’m sure that your frustrations must at times be almost overpowering and the desire to bodily eject your incompetent pleaders from your presence must be repressed mightily. I frequently found myself in just such a situation when I was flying actively and instructing in the Navy and with a major airline where ejection could have slightly more serious side effects than at ground level or even a few feet above.

    In my own case, I often find that I can’t even describe exactly what is happening to the Guru’s understanding and many times can’t remember some of the steps that preceded my current disaster. Of course, my wife of 60 years tells me that I never had a memory, lovingly of course… I think. I don’t believe I have reached the extremes you quoted above, but I do sometimes have to ask for a repeat of what he told me a week or so ago.

    In short, I am more frustrated at my incompetence than you could ever be, so what I’m trying to say in all this convoluted post is to bear with me and those like me and that I thank you, my Gurus and others who put up with it and continue to help me when I so desperately need it. The string about the frozen printer queue was one that has bugged me for years and no one could give me a simple way of correcting it. You and your fellow Geeks (said with a bow) have gone out of your way to help.

    Your efforts are not in vain. I have discovered a treasure trove of help and ideas in your posts

    Thank you all and my blessing on all of you!

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  19. Dale Davis UNITED STATES Internet Explorer Windows says:

    I am happy to know that these posts go through a moderation procedure. If my previous one is too long or inappropriate, please don’t hesitate to delete it It only shows my respect and appreciation for those of you who do these web sites for free.

    Please, by all means, delete this message since it is only an explanation.


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  20. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Linux Terminalist says:

    @ Dale Davis:

    Well, the problem with technology these days is that it is a huge interconnected ecosystem. Many problems are emergent – they stem from the fact that two or more systems that were never designed to interact, suddenly find themselves in an environment where one can affect the other.

    I don’t know if you have read my blog for long enough, but some regulars may remember my old FedEx story from years ago. I used to work in a 2nd floor office and our Wireless router stood right by the window, that was located directly above the back entrance to the building. At one pint our Wifi started dropping around twice or three times a day for no reason.

    I replaced the router, wifi cards, spent the time looking at the logs trying to figure out the cause of the problem and could not identify it. But every day we would lose our wifi around the same time: around 10am then 1pm and finally after 5pm. The signal would just drop, everyone would start freaking out, yelling at the IT guys for and we would run around like crazy people trying not to trample the poor Fedex guy who always seemed to be delivering mail when we had these issues.

    Eventually this turned into a running joke – every time someone would spot a FedEx truck pulling into the parking lot, they would yell “Fedex is here, prepare for Wifi to go down in 3, 2, 1…” and of course it would drop – like on a queue. But what could Fedex have to do with Wifi? Must be a weird coincidence, no?

    Guess what though? It was the wireless transmitter in the FedEx truck. When they were making deliveries, they would park it right below our wifi router. We moved the router and asked the Fedex guy to park few feet away from that spot, and it resolved our issue.

    Many problems are just like that – things that you wouldn’t even consider. Sometimes errors and technical problems are caused by long chain of dependencies or conditions that must be just right. But they are all ultimately solvable. Just sometimes you have to be a little bit of a Sherlock Holmes to crack these things. It is usually easier to just throw new software and hardware at the problem until it goes away.

    I recommend that you check out my Intractable IT Problems for some more examples of stuff just like that. Problems that none of us knows how to solve with any degree of finality. But that doesn’t mean technology is somehow malicious.

    In fact, personifying and anthropomorphizing your computers can’t be good thing

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