Unnervingly vague error messages from 1976


#1

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2017/08/28/unnervingly-vague-error-messag.html


#2

Back at the beginning

I have a personal history with that one.


#3

Years ago, I came across a perl script which would let you change the text of the Ready screen on HP printers. Most of our office’s printers had a pretty blue screen which resembled the C64 command prompt, so I set the text on a bunch of them to, “Press Play on Tape…”. Some of the devs were amused. Finance and marketing, less so.


#4

Detachment successful: The computer is letting you know that it just doesn’t care.

See also: Whatever


#5

From an even earlier era: the amusingly named WATFOR Fortran compiler developed at the the University of Waterloo was popular among students because it had better error messages than the standard IBM compiler. The IBM compiler had several mystifying ones, for example:

THE STATEMENT CONTAINS INVALID SYNTAX. THE STATEMENT CANNOT BE CLASSIFIED.

THE STRUCTURE STATEMENT HAS A STRUCTURE WITH IMPROPER WORD
BOUNDARIES.

IFEnnnI COMPILER ERROR. A MESSAGE DOES NOT EXIST FOR DETECTED
ERROR.


#6

Did @beschizza just spoil the plot gimmick for a certain Boinger’s next novel?


#7

Your file system has achieved nirvana and so can you…which is good because your work is Damaged beyond recovery!


#8

From Neil Cicierega’s Windows 95 Tips, tragically not updated for some time now.

See also:


#9

“Please Answer All Questions”

What is this error? What?

“Please Answer All Questions”

Damn it why isn’t it wor-

Please. Answer. All. Questions


#10

No need to go back to the 1970s. Just try using LaTeX and you’ll have more Cryptic messages than you know what to do with.


#11

Actually the footnote one isn’t that different from modern messages from TeX/LaTeX – basically in typesetting programs, the automatic placement of things like footnotes and figures can leave pages looking “unbalanced” – typically messages like this aren’t actual errors but just telling you that you may have to do some manual adjustment to get things to look pretty.


#12

Bad flashbacks to editing diesel engine service manuals… SGML DTDs on SPARCStations… no more performance curves… make it STOP!


#13

Invalid Frn.

Story of my life. I have never been able to get the right Frn.


#14

“Nonsense in BASIC”

That’s harsh, Spectrum. I have feelings, you know.


#15

RSTS/E on the DEC PDP-11 series had one which was listed in the manual, but I never actually saw happen:

?Program lost - Sorry


#16

That is going back to the 1970s.

(Ok, it was released in 1985…but even then it was a strongly 1970s bit of software…)


#17

Occasionally I have wondered what the error log file of HAL9000 would read like.


#18

It might just output some Nietzsche


#19

Too clear, too coherent, too logical.
If anything, Heidegger.


#20

Is there any era that isn’t defined by cryptic error messages?

Maybe my perspective is just skewed by the fact that I start working when things stop working; but my experience has been that there are two basic types of systems: the ones with cryptic error messages; and the ones with cryptic error messages hidden under vague error messages.

To the degree that things look cleaner, it’s mostly because the horrible error spew is simply hidden, sometimes to the detriment of solving the problem, rather than being presented as though it will be of use to you.