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Useless/Interesting Error Messages

by monkey_boy (Priest)
on Mar 04, 2005 at 11:13 UTC ( #436526=perlmeditation: print w/replies, xml ) Need Help??

I was writing a perl wrapper to the ncbi's blastclust program, and one input printed the folowing error message:

Error: this can't happen!

113 times, then kindly core dumped.

So go on, whats the best error message you've ever seen, or been guilty of writing?

Im so sick of my Signature...

Replies are listed 'Best First'.
Re: Useless/Interesting Error Messages
by legato (Monk) on Mar 04, 2005 at 15:36 UTC

    I have two favorites:

    1. In Linux, in single-user mode, the login system isn't working. Therefore, when you try to use logout or exit, you get:
      You don't exist. Go Away.
    2. I can't remember where this one occurred, as I've only seen it once. The app did error messages like 'Error 0x0A : bad usage' or something. I got this once:
      Error 0xDEADBEEF : Unknown fatal error

    I've always enjoyed clever or amusing error messages, and I try to include them in my code. The problem is, I'm neither clever nor amusing. My best message is probably in code that intelligently guesses what certain data should be -- since it is a guess, I needed to warn (and log) that such data could be inaccurate. Phrasing failed me, until I came up with this (now in production code):

    Unable to find valid source data: pulling it from my ass.

    I love working for small shops... ;-)

    Anima Legato
    .oO all things connect through the motion of the mind

Re: Useless/Interesting Error Messages
by chb (Deacon) on Mar 04, 2005 at 11:19 UTC
    Well, these two have to be mentioned:
    Unknown Error -1 (on an old Mac)
    Keyboard error (press F1 to resume)
      I got an error once, I think it was on an old Mac but I can't remember what app or why: "An unknown error has occurred, because an unknown error has occurred."
      for $a(-2,12){for $b(0..7){$c=0;$_?hex substr( ef7fa1866706caeff02289402844,2*$_+$a,2)&2**(7-$b):0 and $c+=2**(7-$_)for(0..7);print chr $c;}}
      Keyboard error (press F1 to resume)
      Would you be happier if it said "Keyboard error (Plug in keyboard and press F1 to resume)"? And if so, does it really make that much difference?
Re: Useless/Interesting Error Messages
by davies (Prior) on Mar 04, 2005 at 14:04 UTC
    Ever seen: OK, it's not a real error message, but did anyone else see a programme called (I think) Alfred J. Glitch on the Apple ][? It fouled up anything you typed, and has some lovely messages. My favourite was "too tired to run error".

    Ever written: plagiarised, but I couldn't remember where from even when I wrote it, and that was some years back. "Hit any key to continue or any other key to quit". The code shouldn't get to this point in the error trapping routines, but if it did, this should have got users screaming for help, which was what I wanted. I did document it fully, as though anyone would have read the documentation...

Re: Useless/Interesting Error Messages
by thor (Priest) on Mar 04, 2005 at 12:34 UTC
    The screen program has some interesting ones. I have no idea how they manifest, but here we go:


    Feel the white light, the light within
    Be your own disciple, fan the sparks of will
    For all of us waiting, your kingdom will come

      YKYBPTMNHW your error messages are all related to NetHack, even though your program has nothing to do with it.

      Explanation #1: You Know You've Been Playing Too Much NetHack When
      Explanation #2: Nethack is a text-based role playing game.
      My mission: To boldy split infinitives that have never been split before!
        I know it looks like nethack, but I assure you, I got all of that from "strings `which screen`". Kinda makes you wonder, eh?


        Feel the white light, the light within
        Be your own disciple, fan the sparks of will
        For all of us waiting, your kingdom will come

Re: Useless/Interesting Error Messages
by BrowserUk (Patriarch) on Mar 04, 2005 at 16:14 UTC

    DEC RSTS/E had a make command (nothing whatsoever to do with building programs!) and if you typed:

    make love

    It responded with:

    Not war!? creating file 'love' ....

    It was the late 70's when I was using that college system, but the code was problably written at the tail-end of the hippy 60's.

    Examine what is said, not who speaks.
    Silence betokens consent.
    Love the truth but pardon error.

        History is destined to always repeat itself! :)

        Examine what is said, not who speaks.
        Silence betokens consent.
        Love the truth but pardon error.
Re: Useless/Interesting Error Messages
by Anonymous Monk on Mar 04, 2005 at 11:38 UTC
    Most interesting "error" message I know of used to be in Perl. Under certain cases, it would detect an attempt to use an old trick to gain super-user priviledges - if it was detected, it would send an email to root. Unfortunally, it turned out this sending of an email itself could be used to gain super-user privs, and it was removed.

    As far as actual error messages, there are some witty ones in (older versions of) TeX.

    Best proposed error message I know about: "Too many rhyming function names".

Re: Useless/Interesting Error Messages
by dthacker (Deacon) on Mar 05, 2005 at 02:23 UTC
    Way back in eons of time, back when SCO was cool, I had a co-worker who swore he saw an SCO Xenix kernel panic that said "SHUT 'ER DOWN SCOTTY, SHE"S SUCKIN' MUD"

    More recently one of our perl coders wrote a module called, which, you guessed it. obliterates a database table and creates a new one in it's place. When you run this code you see

    Hey, I see you're using the Obliterator. Well I sure as hell hope you know what you're doing. God speed, brave administrator!

    Yeah, I love small shops too!

Re: Useless/Interesting Error Messages
by gellyfish (Monsignor) on Mar 04, 2005 at 15:54 UTC
Re: Useless/Interesting Error Messages
by itub (Priest) on Mar 04, 2005 at 13:46 UTC
    I'm guilty of that one. I often have something like this:
    if ($x == 1) { # do something } elsif ($x == 2) { # do something else } else { confess "should't be here!" }

    The idea is that I'm assuming that the subroutine got called with the right $x, but I leave that exception just in case.

      reminds me of some of my code :
      else { # we should extract the data to some temporary space # and migrate it as we can # for now we just fail gracefully... :( &ExitOnError( $WarningMes.="[$$] FATAL : can't migrate (missing featur +e!\n", $rows{JOBID}); }
      Yeah, some day I'll have to write that missing part ;)
Re: Useless/Interesting Error Messages
by holli (Abbot) on Mar 04, 2005 at 11:19 UTC
Re: Useless/Interesting Error Messages
by Jenda (Abbot) on Mar 04, 2005 at 19:25 UTC

    Not sure I did not write this here already. A few years back a friend was working on some school project in Turbo Pascal with Turbo Vision and there was some problem in the cleanup. Everything worked fine, but when you closed the program and all the TV objects were being destroyed somethig was freed too soon and caused a "Null pointer assignment" error. He couldn't find any fix, the program worked otherwise, it was just this stupid message left in the command prompt after the program exited.

    The solution was simple, the last thing the program prints, after closing all the TV windows and stuff, is "Made by ". ;-)

    We'd like to help you learn to help yourself
    Look around you, all you see are sympathetic eyes
    Stroll around the grounds until you feel at home
       -- P. Simon in Mrs. Robinson

Re: Useless/Interesting Error Messages
by YuckFoo (Abbot) on Mar 04, 2005 at 17:42 UTC
    I didn't come up with this, just grabbed it from somewhere, maybe the Fun With Perl mailing list?

    perl -e 'sub DESTROY { warn "Too late for regrets" } $_=bless []'

Re: Useless/Interesting Error Messages
by Anonymous Monk on Mar 04, 2005 at 19:34 UTC
    "/dev/lp1 on fire" is a favorite.
Re: Useless/Interesting Error Messages
by trammell (Priest) on Mar 04, 2005 at 20:10 UTC
    Back at RPI in the 90's, I remember trying to use Maple on one of the terminals. The error message I ended up with was IIRC:
      Something fell through the cracks!
    I still have no idea what that means.
Re: Useless/Interesting Error Messages
by Juerd (Abbot) on Mar 05, 2005 at 09:42 UTC
    It went something like No! Nooooooo! No! No, damnit, no! Tell me this ain't true. Mail me at a.u.thor@a.galaxy.far.away and tell me I'm great and do NOT mention this error, because it never happened.
Re: Useless/Interesting Error Messages
by ambrus (Abbot) on Mar 04, 2005 at 15:01 UTC

    I've seen my favourite one only once, as it's not reproducible. I was responsible for it: it was because of a stale pointer in C. I don't remember its exact text, but it said that the dynamic linker was buggy and asked to report the bug in e-mail.

    The other one is a mistranslation in Windows 3.11, it's iirc this:

    Kevés memória indítja az alkalmazást
Re: Useless/Interesting Error Messages
by dimar (Curate) on Mar 05, 2005 at 01:28 UTC

    There is a firewall application that reports errors and access violations when attempting to connect to various resources. If it cannot even identify the resource in question, it simply spits out ...

    "FooFar detected access violation error while trying to access the unknown."

    Sounds like a case for the X-Files

Re: Useless/Interesting Error Messages
by Aristotle (Chancellor) on Mar 07, 2005 at 11:40 UTC

    A friend of mine in a compiler writing class produced a compiler with one error message “you lied to me when you told me this was a program”.

    — Pete Fenelon

    Makeshifts last the longest.

Re: Useless/Interesting Error Messages
by davido (Cardinal) on Mar 06, 2005 at 08:00 UTC

    Let's not forget the classic error messages of days gone by:

    • I'm sorry Dave. I cannot do that. -- Hal 2000. ("No Hal2000 computer has ever made a mistake.")
    • Danger Will Robinson! Danger! Danger! -- Robot from the Swiss Family Robinson (I think)
    • Would you like to play a game? -- Wargames, with Matthew Broderick
    • That is against my programming. -- Terminator (also worthy of mention: Hasta la vista, baby!)
    • Also from terminator: "I'll be back" (Spoken just as the Terminator lowers itself into a vat of molten metal. Aren't you glad Windows never pulls that trick on you?)
    • The ubiquitous "Red Alert" from Star Trek. ...could mean Klingons are attacking, or could mean the fridge is stuck in defrost mode. You never know till Spock pulls out the Tricorder.
    • "Check Engine" light. (Ok, that's not days gone by... but talk about utterly useless!)
    • Three bombs on the screen (Macintosh, cerca 1989).
    • CGI-Enurl 1.07: new version 1.07 available in ActiveState Package Repository -- Output from ppm upgrade. Note the version numbers.


Re: Useless/Interesting Error Messages
by sfink (Deacon) on Mar 08, 2005 at 05:47 UTC
    At my last company I had a global variable containing the current error message (much like errno, only a descriptive string rather than an integer). Whenever an error was detected, I would set it to an appropriate message and return -1. A caller would detect the failure and print out the global error descriptor. (This was in C, btw.)

    When running under the debugger, it was useful to have an easily recognizable value that would indicate that no error had happened yet, so I initialized it to "Life is good".

    Unsurprisingly, I ended up with a number of routines that didn't bother to set the error message, but still returned -1. So it became fairly common to see messages like:

    Fatal error, unable to continue: Life is good

Re: Useless/Interesting Error Messages
by 5p1d3r (Hermit) on Mar 07, 2005 at 14:34 UTC
    Back in college a friend of mine managed to get an "Unexpected operator IQ error" while compiling some Eiffel code. I'd earlier managed to get remote write access to his terminal and popped that one onto his screen to see just how frustrated he was getting. He blew his top.

    Another one I've created was in an administration shell. The prompt looked like a normal unix prompt so people invariably ended up typing 'ls' in it. To which it would reply, "You're not in unix any more Toto."

      A colleague of mine did something similar to his boss, whenever the boss tried to do anything on one of their machines it would display the error 'programmer not good enough'. Fortuantely the machine was rebooted before the boss found out about the 'patch' and who was responsible for it ;)
Re: Useless/Interesting Error Messages
by submersible_toaster (Chaplain) on Mar 06, 2005 at 02:05 UTC

    Hmm, I have seen a modal dialog in a Win32 app report

    Personally, I use  die "Screaming $!"; FAR too often.

    I can't believe it's not psellchecked
Re: Useless/Interesting Error Messages
by JediWizard (Deacon) on Mar 06, 2005 at 07:36 UTC

    I was once working with an module which under certain conditions (which I had a very hard time narrowing down, BTW), would die with the message "12". Thats it, no further information... Just "12", and the program was dead. No where in the documentation did it explain what "12" meant. It did not use a warn, or a croak, or confess, just "12". No way to find where it happened, or why, just the number 12. Boy did I throw that module away in a hurry.

    A truely compassionate attitude towards other does not change, even if they behave negatively or hurt you

    —His Holiness, The Dalai Lama

Re: Useless/Interesting Error Messages
by KeighleHawk (Scribe) on Mar 08, 2005 at 21:01 UTC
    Although I've seen and written amusing error messages my personal favorite was an entire enterprise application that never threw a single error, EVER.

    It was an Oracle Forms application and part of the spec requried all excepetions to be "handled." The spec was sent out of shop. Naturally, the initial code was stubbed out with place holders for all the exception handling code.

    Unfortunatly, as often happens, time ran short and dead lines loomed. The code "ran" so was returned to us, where it "passed" all our tests. So, we shipped it :-D :-D :-D

    I had never seen anyone actually "turn white" untill the day someone broke the code open and informed the CEO (it was also a small company) what we'd just shipped. You could almost see the blood drain out of his face like a thermometer that had just gotten thrown into a blizzard.

    I guess it must be the part of me that is my evil twin that still remembers that so fondly...

Re: Useless/Interesting Error Messages
by pboin (Deacon) on Mar 07, 2005 at 12:33 UTC

    Actually, I see (and write) this one fairly often and I think it's a good message: it tells the user that something is *very* wrong. Something the programmer knew shouldn't happen and this incident is 1) important and 2) should involve a code correction 2) isn't bad data or something on their end.

    So, while amusing, I think it's just fine.

Re: Useless/Interesting Error Messages
by PhilHibbs (Hermit) on Mar 10, 2005 at 16:39 UTC
    Windows classics:

    "Error: The operation completed successfully."
    "Fatal error code 0: No error."

    I once hacked a friend's to replace the text "Bad command or file name" with "Out of cheese error".

    Not really an error message, but when Microsoft first included virus scanning software in DOS, I saw the following:

    The diskette in drive A: has a boot sector virus. You should reboot your machine immediately.

    Note that it didn't tell me to remove the disk before rebooting...

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