or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk

Reference Question of the Week – 1/4/15

   January 10th, 2015 Brian Herzog

restart dialog boxA patron came up to the desk and asked for me specifically (I was in the office at the time). She said she needs help with her computer, and hoped that I could fix it for her.

The abbreviated version of the story is that her laptop was having problems, so she took it "to the shop" to have them fix it. They said they did, and she never tried it to make sure - she just put it on a shelf and didn't use the computer.

For a year.

Now, a year later, she wanted to use her computer again, but can't remember the password. And can I help?

At least she knew that she had Windows XP, which is something. She didn't have the computer with her, so she said she'd come back the next day.

Which gave me a day to research how to reset or bypass a Windows XP user password, because I had no idea - and it sounded like something that should not be an easy thing to do. However, I found all kinds of websites with all kinds of complicated methods of discovering or resetting the password, including putting password recovery software on a boot disk. Then I found this kid's video:

That seemed easy and straightforward, so I figured I'd try it first - too easy in fact, but, as much as I wanted to help the patron, I didn't think we could really offer support beyond this. Downloading hacking software to a boot disk seemed a bit drastic.

So she came in the next day, and I was shocked that the kid's technique worked flawlessly. Partly because I didn't expect it to be so easy, and partly because it doesn't seem at all safe that it is that easy. But then, this was on a very old laptop with XP.

At any rate, the patron was happy she had access to her computer again - and of course thought I was a genius. I gave her a little talk about updating the anti-virus and getting a year's worth a security updates before she use it normally online, and also told her that XP is no longer supported and maybe think about getting a new computer. She said she got along for a year without a computer at all, so she'll see how it goes.

With a little luck, she may still enjoy XP for years to come.

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Reference Question of the Week – 4/25/10

   May 1st, 2010 Brian Herzog

Light bulb going on over headI know I'm late to the party on a lot of things. Sometimes I'll even know about the party, but it just doesn't occur to me to show up - until it suddenly does.

I don't mean to be cryptic - I'm just trying to be creative about to introducing you to my stupid side.

This week's reference question is one that I've been asked occasionally since the late 1990's (way before my library days). The question is this:

How do I get a list of the names of all of the file that are on my disk?

In Windows, I had never found a good way to do this, which meant either using a screenshot, or typing out all of the file names, or, on each file, Right-click > Rename then highlighted the text and Copy. I think other OS's, even DOS, do a better job of this, but or public workstations are limited to Windows.

But when a patron asked me this question this week, this very obvious workaround popped up out of nowhere: just browse to that disk using an internet browser.

When we plugged her flash drive into the computer, the contents of the drive popped up in a Windows Explorer window. I right-clicked on the Address bar and copied the directory path:

Files on Flash Drive

Then I pasted that path into Firefox's address bar and hit Enter (this will work for any directory, folder, floppy disk, CD, etc.). The contents of the flash drive were displayed, and I could highlight and copy the file names:

Files in Firefox

In this case, the patron wanted to paste the list into an email message, so I pasted them into Notepad to show them below:

Files pasted into Notepad

She had to delete the "File:" that was tacked on to the beginning of each file name, and I think she deleted some of the file details. This was much better than having to retype all of the file names, so she was happy about it.

I have no idea why this never occurred to me before - I guess this question can be filed under "eureka" and crossed-referenced under "d'oh."

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