April 3, 2003

By Karen Kenworthy


It's springtime here at the secluded Power Tools workshop! Daffodils are blooming, trees are budding. This year's crop of baby turtles, rabbits and song birds are tentatively venturing out of their cozy nests. Not far from here, newborn fresh calves peek from behind their ever-present mothers, then bashfully hide their clean brown and white faces. And with looks of confusion and delight, colts struggle to master their new wobbly legs.

Human beings are affected by the change of seasons too. The advent of spring is the time many shake off the dust of winter, clean rugs, and air out rooms. Some folks, it's said, even throw away things they no longer need. But as my collection of 80-column punch cards and reel-to-reel 800- BPI NRZ computer tapes attest, I don't belong to that particular cult. :)


I may be able to collect junk. But computers can't function for long without a little housecleaning. Behind the scenes, Windows and other programs are constantly allocating memory, using it for a season, then returning the resource so others can make use of it.

Windows even has a special routine, called "Garbage Collection", which runs continually in the background. Its job is to consolidate small bits of reusable memory, combining them into larger chunks that can then be used to satisfy new requests.

Disk space is constantly being reused too. Windows and other programs often use temporary disk files sort to and process large collections of data. Once the job is done, that space is returned and made ready for another use. Updating a program or data files causes a recycling of disk space too. Once a new version of a file is safely stored on disk, the old version is deleted and its space returned to your disk's "available pool".

Almost always, programs can be trusted to behave properly, only returning space when it's truly no longer needed. That's why Windows processes their recycling requests immediately. But human beings aren't so reliable. So Windows gives us a safety net ...

That safety net is called the "Recycle Bin". When enabled, it turns the deletion of a file into a two-step process. When we delete a file by right-clicking on its icon and selecting "Delete" from the context menu that appears, the file is actually moved to a hidden area of your disk. There it will remain indefinitely.

Only after the Recycle Bin is emptied are the files really deleted, and their space actually released. Until then, the deleted file can be recovered.

Start by double-clicking the Recycle Bin's desktop icon. Once the Recycle Bin folder opens, you'll see icons representing all recently deleted files. Right-click on a file's icon, select "Restore" from the context menu that appears, and voila! The deleted file is deleted no more.

Karen's Recycler

Windows' Recycle Bin can be a real life-saver. Most of us can tell a horror story or two about the accidental deletion of an important file. Hopefully, these stories have a happy ending thanks to the Recycle Bin's ability to give us a second chance.

But the Recycle Bin can cause problems too. For example, it's easy to forget to take out the trash. If you neglect this task long enough, files you thought were long gone can eventually take up a large portion of your disk space.

That's why I recently created a new Power Tool. Called Karen's Recycler, this program makes it easy to monitor and manage your Recycle Bin. And it can even automate the process of emptying the bin.

Run the new program and you'll immediately discover one of Windows' little secrets. Although there's only one Recycle Bin icon on your computer's desktop, there are actually as many recycle bins as disk drives. In other words, each of a computer's disk drives has its own Recycle Bin.

My Recycler displays the number of deleted files in each drive's bin. You'll also see the amount of the drive's space currently occupied by deleted files, and the amount of free space available on each disk.

Alongside each drive's information is a checkbox. Place a checkmark there, and that drive's Recycle Bin is selected for emptying. Now, click the program's "Empty Selected Bin(s)" button, and the tedious job of taking out the trash done. :)

Afterwards, program's main window is automatically updated. The number of deleted files on a selected drive will drop to zero, along with the disk space those files consume. The amount of free space on the drive will increase accordingly, as the deleted file's space is made available for reuse.

Take a Shortcut

To make it even easier to empty your Recycle Bin, the new program allows you to save its current settings in a desktop shortcut. Later, you can double-click that shortcut's icon to take out the trash.

Recycler shortcuts can be stored in other places too. For example, save the shortcut in your Windows Startup folder, and the Recycle Bin will be emptied automatically each time Windows boots.

And if you don't want your garbage lying around overnight, ask Karen's Show Stopper to run the Recycler each time Windows shuts down. Just drag a Recycler shortcut onto the Show Stopper's list of available tasks. Now add that new task to a task group, and select that task group to run when Windows stops.

Other program can control the Recycler too. For example, my Countdown Timer II can be told to run the Recycler every night. Just specify a shortcut to the Recycler, when asked which file or program to run. Now the Recycler will take out your digital trash even as the night crew cleans your office. :)

If you've been bitten by the spring cleaning bug, or would just like to give the new Recycler a try, visit its home page at:


You'll find the Show Stopper program's home page at:


And look for information about Countdown Timer II at:


As always, the programs are free (for personal use). Programmer-types can download the programs' free Visual Basic source code too.

Or if you prefer, get the latest version of every Power Tool -- including the Recycler -- on CD. The disc includes three bonus Power Tools, not available anywhere else, too.

You'll also find every back issue of my newsletter, and a few articles, in the CD's library. It even includes a special license that lets you use your Power Tools at work. Best of all, buying a CD is the easiest way to support the web site and this newsletter.

To find out more about the CD, visit:


Until we meet again, stay safe. And whether you live where spring has sprung, where autumn is just around the corner, or where seasons never change, take some time to enjoy the world around you.

And don't forget, if you see me on the 'net or the woods behind the secluded Power Tools workshop, be sure to wave and say "Hi!"

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