Ask Leo! #703 – Why Can’t You Give a Straight Answer?

This Week's Newsletter

Featured: Why I might seem to waffle.

Also this week: Downloading your data (there's a bunch!), and deleting what's on your desktop.


And by the time you read this I'll be back home from The Netherlands. (I'm writing this from my hotel room outside of Soest.) It's been a great trip!


Why Can't You Give a Straight Answer?


 I've looked at your answers for problems that seem like they relate to mine, but everything seems to be “check this” or “it might be that”. Why can't you just give me the specific steps I need to solve my problem? Why can't I get a straight answer?

It's a fair question.

I wish I could.

Honestly, I truly wish I could give everyone a simple, step-by-step, here's-how-to-fix-your-problem answer. When possible, I try. Unfortunately, it's rarely possible to be that specific.

There's a reason my most common answer is “It depends.”

The information I get

I don't want to sound like I'm trying to shift the blame, but the reality of the situation is that I rarely get enough information to determine the exact cause of a specific problem. I'm often not told of the symptoms at all beyond the ever-popular “it doesn't work.”

Without detailed information about the problem, there's little hope for getting detailed information about an answer.

I get that it's not always possible to know what information to provide. That's why I wrote an article on the topic: What Information Should I Provide When Asking for Help? It's a great place to start.

Step-by-step answers often require step-by-step instructions to reproduce whatever problem is at hand. And while not all problems are of the “step by step” variety, I can say this for sure: it's better to provide too much information than too little.

Consider symptoms

When you experience a computer problem, you see symptoms. A symptom might include an error message, unexpected behavior, or a lack of expected behavior.

The symptoms are not the problem; symptoms are clues to the problem.

What does it mean if your leg hurts? Most commonly, it's a simple muscle strain, but it might also be an insect bite, an infection, a blood clot, cancer, or a variety of other things I can't begin to think of. We need more information. As TV doctors might say, “We need to do more tests.”

The same is true of computer problems. When you report symptoms, you're reporting clues I use to diagnose the cause of the problem. Sometimes, the clues are enough. More often, though, they are not. The same symptom might have hundreds, if not thousands, of different causes.

Asking questions

Since I can't sit at your computer and diagnose your specific problem, I can't “run more tests”.

Like a doctor, I might ask you more questions about the symptoms you're experiencing in the hope of clarifying what is happening.

I might also give you suggestions to further diagnose or repair the problem yourself.

Much like that leg pain, resolving your computer's problem often involves understanding more about what was happening prior to the symptoms appearing. Sometimes a lot of people experience similar symptoms, while at other times, there might be a situation I've never encountered before.

In understanding more about what's happening, I'll probably have suggestions of things to try or look at.

No two computers are alike

Computers, like people, are incredibly complex. No two are exactly alike, no matter how you configure them.

Different hardware, operating systems (and versions thereof), applications, customizations, ways of connecting to the internet, and methods of using the computer make each individual computer as unique as the individual user.

As a result, blanket cookbook solutions to specific problems are rare. Obviously, I try to find them when I can, but quite often what works for one machine will not for another, and certainly not for all.

What to try and how to go about further diagnosing the problem yourself, however, does work, as evidenced by the many people who take that guidance and resolve their issues.

Unfortunately, computers are not yet like toasters: they don't “just work”. That means at some point, each of us will be faced with the responsibility of some diagnostic detective work.

There are lots of folks like me available to help, but ultimately, it'll take someone at your keyboard to collect the information we need to perform the final diagnosis and repair…

…and that someone is you.

Related Links & Comments: Why Can't You Give a Straight Answer?

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Download Your Facebook and Google Data

There's been a tremendous amount of discussion relating to the amount of data kept, shared, sold — and occasionally leaked — by large service providers like Facebook and Google.

Regardless of how you feel about it, it highlights something I believe is important to realize: these services collect a lot of data. We may never know just how much is being collected or with whom it is being shared.

However, both Facebook and Google allow you to download data they've collected relating to your account. It's unlikely to be everything, but even so, it's a heck of a lot. It's worth understanding what they have.

Continue Reading: Download Your Facebook and Google Data

Why Did Deleting a Desktop Icon Delete the Program?

I have always understood that deleting an icon from your desktop does not remove the installed program. I did a little clean up and deleted the Windows Live Mail icon, cleaned out the trash can and noticed my error, went looking for my program, no such item on the list, any idea what could have gone astray?

The Windows desktop can be a convenient place to keep frequently-used icons.

However, those icons can reference things in either of two very different ways, and understanding the difference is critical when you're about to delete one.

Continue Reading: Why Did Deleting a Desktop Icon Delete the Program?

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Posted: May 8, 2018 in: 2018
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