Great moments in forgetfulness: Does anybody have a copy of this file?


A colleague of mine (let's call him Bob) sent out a question to the rest of the team:

Does anybody have a copy of xyz.exe?

I replied,

Hi, Bob. I found a copy on \\scratch\temp\bob\xyz.exe

(A few years earlier, Bob had sent mail out to the team saying "Hey, I found this cool program xyz.exe. I copied it to \\scratch\temp\bob\xyz.exe." So he answered his own question two years in advance of asking it. All I did was act as a forwarding service.)

I was reminded of this story when a different colleague found himself in need of a little script to accomplish some task, so he fired up Notepad and gave it the name of the script he was planning on writing. But instead of being asked "Cannot find the file. Do you want to create a new file?", he got a Notepad window with the contents of exactly the script he wanted to write.

Turns out he had already written that script and given it exactly the same name.

Eerie.

At least he realized that he had already written the script before he started writing it the second time!

Comments (22)
  1. sense says:

    You could say he chose the name, and the script got written by itself. That's how good naming works.
    In programming, as soon as you can give a function an appropriate name, you've almost finished writing it. (In your mind)

  2. Adrian says:

    Naming things is hard. Naming things in a consistent and predictable way can be surprisingly valuable, which is one of the reasons I'm sad that (apps) Hungarian notation has fallen out of favor. Being able to predict what a member variable or parameter is called is a huge boost to productivity.

    1. Evan says:

      "There are only two hard problems in computer science: cache coherency, naming things, and off-by-one errors."

  3. mikeb says:

    Now all those pesky problems that need a time machine can be solved! Apparently \\scratch\temp is Microsoft's time machine.

    1. Erik F says:

      @MikeB: Bob was pretty lucky that the server hadn't been wiped! Either the server admins had seen the error of their ways, or else were just lazy :-P (Seriously, if Bob is reading this message from the past: MAKE A LOCAL COPY [and backup!])

  4. Ray Shuman says:

    I needed new shoes this past summer, and since I am hard to fit, I bought two pair. I decided the best place to store the second pair was on the top shelf of a spare closet, where I wouldn't forget them. When I got there, I found a shoebox containing a pair of shoes in my size that had never been worn.

  5. chrisd says:

    A few years ago I ran across a little command line utility that looked useful, so I installed it, but it kept telling me that the options were invalid. Could NOT figure this out. Eventually I tried 'foobar /?' to see if maybe it would elucidate what options it really wanted. Turned out that what was running wasn't the utility I'd just installed; it was a different utility with the same name, higher up in the system path.

    Why is this relevant to this story? Because the usage text also showed a copyright. Mine.

    Apparently I wrote a utility with the same name, years ago. I wonder what it's for.

  6. Mark Y says:

    That was beautiful.

  7. Nick says:

    That's a remarkably reliable message bus.

  8. Tomasz says:

    Some time ago I was looking for a solution of a problem with slow matrix multiplication in one of the linear algebra libraries. What I found was a post on a forum with the diagnosis and solution for that problem that had been posted two years earlier on that forum by myself.

  9. cheong00 says:

    My problem is in reverse, but IMO more common one: There are times that I remember I've written something before, but forgotten where I did place it.

    That's where the search function in Explorer comes handy - who doesn't index their source folders for their mini test projects?

    1. Josh says:

      @cheong00, I just check all of mine into github. Let them do the indexing for me.

  10. —"so he fired up Notepad and gave it the name of the script he was planning on writing"
    Strange. Most people fire up notepad, start typing and then notice upon saving. I still don't really get the "gave it the name of the script" part.

    1. Sam Steele says:

      If one runs notepad from the command line with an argument, then that argument is treated as the name of a file to be opened. If the file can’t be found, then Notepad asks “Cannot find the xxx.x file. Do you want to create a new file?

    2. Boris says:

      Yes, that's exactly how I would run Notepad (on the other hand, I don't remember ever running into a file I'd completely forgotten about).

    3. Boris says:

      PS: as for "gave it the name of the script", try running "notepad new_oldnewthing" from the 'Search programs and files' box in the Start menu. You'll get a message box wondering if you'd like to create the missing file instead.

      1. DWalker says:

        I always start Notepad by double-clicking on the handy shortcut that I have installed in my Quick-Launch-style folder next to the Start button, or else by double-clicking on a "txt" file that I am looking at. So I don't have a chance to give a new file a name before I save it.

        (You can make something exactly like XP's QuickLaunch in Windows 7 if you choose the right options. Not sure about Win10 yet.)

        1. Nick says:

          When I need a new Notepad, I hold down Shift and click on the Notepad I've pinned to the taskbar or hold down Shift when I hit the WinKey+Number that corresponds to the spot on the taskbar that Notepad lives at.

  11. Cube 8 says:

    Admit it, Raymond. You have a secret time machine in MS...

  12. Wear says:

    I've done that a few times in real life.

    1. Huh, I lost that bit of paper with that important information on it.
    2. Better look up the information and write it down again
    3. Alright, now I will put it some place where I won't forget it
    4. Oh look, the old bit of paper that I thought I lost.

  13. Jonathan says:

    A less... accommodating... person would whip up xyz.exe that does something funny and place it there. At mid-article, I thought that's what the point of the article would be.

  14. James Curran says:

    A year or so ago, I was getting a error message which I didn't understand, and I naturally googled it, and found a StackOverflow question by someone who was getting the same error message, And it had an accepted answer -- which I had written three years earlier. (The OP's situation made the origin of the problem a bit clearer, so I was able to devise an answer for him, without ever seeing the problem. Reading that answer made me realize I was looking in the wrong spot for my own problem)

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