PLEASE! Someone find a cure!

I sure hope someone finds a cure soon for that Geek Syndrome.
I went over to Comp USA with my friend P, who needed to get some guidance (and, she figured, some kind of software) to clean out the old computer that her old (as in “former”) S.O. left with her when he moved out, since he didn’t want it any more. Figures, right? She figures she can donate it somewhere after it’s cleaned out.
Well, someone told her she needed to “ghost” the machine, and I, being technologically retarded, had no idea what that meant. What I would do is go in and delete all the files that I want to get rid of. But what do I know.? Maybe I think they’re all deleted but they’re all still in there somewhere for someone else to find and blackmail me with.
Anyway, she goes up to the young man behind the desk and says that she wants to “ghost” her computer. What does she need to do, she asks. Can she buy software that will do this for her.
So, this tall, lanky low-browed geeky kid looks at her, his eyes glaze a little, and eventually he starts to tell her that she needs to make a boot disk. “How do I do that,” P asks, further explaining that she knows nothing about computers and she has an old one that someone might be able to use but she needs to get all the stuff that’s on it, off it.
Another five minutes of this kid spewing gibberish to two totally uncomprehending middle-aged females, and he finally suggests that we go over to the repair guy and ask him.
Heh. Right. He wasn’t much better, as he repeated some of the stuff about making a boot disk and and re-booting and didn’t she get a boot disk with the computer and something about going into Control Panel…….. But somewhere in all of that guy’s incomprehensive monologue, I did manage to figure out that if one “ghosts” a machine, the whole hard drive gets wiped out, including the operating system — a virtual lobotomy resulting in a very real tabula rosa and a pile of bolts that are not of much use as a gift to some poor kid who can’t afford to buy a new computer.
Someone needs to teach these tech service guys to ask the right questions and respond with understandable answers.
Questions like: Why do you think you need to ghost the machine? Is it that you want to remove all of the files and folders that have information in them that you don’t want anyone else to get hold of? Do you want someone else to be able to use the programs that are in the machine, like word processing and maybe graphics?
Possible answers like: You don’t want to wipe out the hard drive, and you don’t want to delete programs. But you do want to get rid of all the files with information in them. We can do that all for you here and it will cost you XXXX. Or if you want to do it yourself, here’s what you need to do: (and then give her the step by step instructions, which she can write down).
But it’s hopeless. “Listen,” I say to P, who I can see is all at sea. “I’ll come over and show you how to delete files and we’ll look in the Control Panel’s Add-Delete Programs to see if there are any programs you want to delete as well.” I figure I can delete all the temp files and cookies and anything else that doesn’t look like a program and that ought to do it for her. And, if there are some little bytes still stuck in that back of that fake brain somewhere, who cares right?
And it’s time for lunch, anyway. Someplace where there are no inarticulate, borderline autistic geeks, for sure.

17 thoughts on “PLEASE! Someone find a cure!

  1. For the record I’m a geek and I would have known how to better handle the situation. But I also thought I should let you know that ghosting the machine is simply a fancy way to copy the hard drive (unless a newer edition of ghost is out and does more than just copy). So somewhere a communication failed even earlier in the discussion. So your solution is better than you realized 🙂

  2. I should apologize for categorizing all geeks the way I did in that post. Some of my best friends are geeks. Whether or not I know as much as it sounds like I do to help my friend clean out her computer remains to be seen.

  3. I’ve fired geeks more qualified that those you encountered. And doubtless will again. Sadly, what you hit isn’t a geek problem but a common sense problem. Too many people don’t ask one basic question – “What is it you’re really trying to do?” And too many who ask the question have already formulated their answer, so they listen to the answer without hearing.
    Maybe I’m just attuned to the issue at this moment. I’m hiring a programm/customer service engineer. And I’m flooded with resumes that brag about engineering skill (most of it marginal tech skill amd fare removed from engineering skill), yet it’s a rare resume I see or candidate I talk to who understands service, or what a customer really represents.
    My two cents. Ok, maybe three.

  4. Ken, you’re right about that being the crucial question when your job is providing clients with what they really need. It certainly is true for me when I write something for someone else. First I need to know what they want that piece of writing to accomplish. Lots of times they haven’t thought it through themselves, and asking the question gets them thinking and communicating. Communication works both ways, and the less jargon used the better.

  5. I think you mean “tabula rasa.” A tabula rosa would be a red tablet, not a blank one.
    Sorry for being technical. I’ve seen two people say “tabula rosa” today, so I thought I’d nip the epidemic in the bud.

  6. I’m with you on that Ken – I ran the support department for a large ISP fopr two years and I had to fire some very technically competent but socially incompetent geeks. They just couldn’t get it across to people how to fix heir computers.
    Elaine – your plan is fairly solid. Open control panel then open Internet Options – delete all temp files and offline content and cookies (if that option is available) then go to add/remove programs and remove any program you want to get rid of. If Internet Options did NOT give you the option of deleting cookies then right click on your start button and choose Explore to open Windows Explorer and scroll down to Temporary Internet Files – delete everything in this directory except the directory itself.
    Use Explorer, since you already have it open, to look around My Documents etc to see if there are any files/directories you need to delete. Once you have everything deleted that you think is necessary – just don’t delete anything in the root (bottom most) directory of C or Windows, then if you feel you still want to make certain no one can, in the future, resurrect any of those files go yo and download the program Eraser – install it and run it. It will not erase any of the files that are still on your computer but it will go through all the vacated space and ensure that depeted files are totattly overwritten in such a way that they can never be retrieved.
    If you need help email me doug at

  7. Lindsay, I should not have made that mistake. I wish I could say it was a typo, but it wasn’t. Damn, that’s embarrassing.
    And Doug, you are a sweetheart. Thanks for those clear and understandable instructions. If I get stuck, I’ll yell for help.

  8. What do you expect from minimum wage employees at a computer store? Not a recomended procedure unless you pretty much know what you need already. I hope I was never that dense when I was a young geek, but no doubt I came across that way at times.
    Part of the problem is people using terms like “ghost” as if it means anything (it doesn’t mean anything to me, I guess Patrick knows of a program by that name), and the geek at the store should have used that as the opportunity to query further about what you really wanted.
    The truth is that wiping the disk with a format or the equivalent is the correct procedure, but the problem is that with the typical PC, there is no direct procedure to get it back to the factory installed state after that. I won’t go into the gory details, but the bottom line is that the Windows pre-install that comes with most PCs is practically worthless and it makes you C: drive a throw away if you want to do anything at all special with your system. If you’ve got a CD Writer and a good backup program, you can cut an image of the disk as shipped and if all goes well you can restore this image to get back to the initial state.
    You have some good advice here about how to try and delete stuff to get back near that initial state, but lots can go wrong with this.
    My advice, donate it to someone who wants to put Linux or BSD on it and just wipe the disk before giving it away. Depending on just how old it is, this may be the best re-use anyway.

  9. I’m going to share all this advice with my friend and let her decide what she wants to do. I gave my old computer to my son, who uses Linux and did just what Gerry suggested and somehow he turned it into a server. I think, though, that my friend just wanted to give it to some inner-city after school program so that the kids there could use it. Thanks for all the suggestions, guys.

  10. Good for him. All Linux installations are “servers” in that they include programs and basic security measures for these functions. I have four machines with the newest being about 5 years old (P/III 550), and they all run Linux very well. Part of the suggestion is based on the way MS releases bloat over time to require bigger faster machines to the point that anything a few years old is painfully slow.
    Now if I could figure out someone to give a mid ’90s Mac and Sun machine to, not to mention the old broken 17″ monitor. I had to just send them to the landfill, but I don’t even know about any local recycling services that take this kind of thing.

  11. Hah! I’ll bet my literally poor son could have done something with them. Too bad our paths didn’t cross sooner. I would have paid you to pack them up and send them to him. He’s in Portland OR. Keep him in mind the next time you’re cleaning your tech house. 🙂

  12. Oh no, I am a pack-rat and still have them. My 13 year old nephew might be disappointed, but he isn’t really ready to handle them, and my sister doesn’t want him accumulating too many unworking computers at this point.
    If your son is interested, give him my email and I will give him the low down so he can decide whether they are worthwhile.

  13. It’s pretty old. A Sun 2 with a pair of 400MB disks. The black and white monitor wouldn’t work for me after I got it home, and I gave away the mouse to a friend who has a newer Sun system.

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