Tip & How-To about Computers & Internet

Computer Errors and Messages

"Danger! Danger! Will Robinson!" is what the robot in Lost in Space would shout when something was about to happen. When you heard that, you knew there was definitely a problem. Then an alien would jump out from behind a giant Styrofoam rock. Unfortunately, computers aren't always that entertaining and at times are downright frustrating. Here is some helpful advice.

Try to recall the last error message you received from your computer. Try to recall what it looked like. Were there any icons or images on it, or was there only text in a big gray box? Or was it a white box? Was it a blue box? What was written in the title bar? Can you recall what buttons were at the bottom? Were there 1, 2, or 3 buttons and what label was on the buttons? I'll give you a moment to think about it.

Well? You can't remember can you? If you can, then you're ahead of the class. If you're one of the people who can't recall these details, then your computer's problem just might be you. That's right. I said it. You could be the reason your computer has problems. Here's why.

As fascinating as computers seem to be, they are very VERY dumb. A computer does ONE thing and ONE thing only -- it follows instructions. The instructions come from you or it comes from a file saved on the hard drive, it makes no difference. The bottom line is that your computer needs to be told what to do every step of the way, and it needs to be told again, and again, and again. Your computer remembers NOTHING. It is designed to simulate memory by writing little notes to itself somewhere. When your computer needs to know what it should do, it digs through the notes. If those notes are erased or moved it has to look elsewhere for instructions and it won't be to the gerbils running on the wheel inside. It will probably turn to you.

When a programmer writes a program, he considers all possible scenarios that could happen and he writes instructions that tell the computer what to do for each scenario. No one can predict all the possible things that can happen in the world, but in a controlled environment where only a few things are possible, a programmer can easily account for all the possible outcomes. Any programmer, who is worth their salt, will write into their program a "Catch all" of some sort to handle situations that could not be predicted. When an unforeseen situation rises, the computer has no instructions on what to do, so the most logical thing to do would be for the computer to ask for help.

When your computer displays a message, you can bet your income that it's for a good reason. Many people ignore the messages and just want them to go away. So they click on whatever button will make it disappear, and not realizing that they may be responding to a question from a computer that is shouting HELP! and not shouting DANGER!

Do this test as quickly as you can. You're busy working on an important project with a deadline of now. How would you respond to this message that pops up?

If you clicked "NO", a few seconds later your computer would turn off. You wanted the error to go away and it did and all your work went with it. This happens more often than you might think. A user might phone the Help Desk and say "I don't know what happened. I got an error message and when I clicked OK, my computer died." Hours or days are wasted unable to find anything wrong with the machine. It all could have been avoided if you paid attention to your computer's cry for help.

There are basically only 3 types of messages you can receive from your operating system. They are:

Alerts - A change has taken place, or is about to take place, on your system. This type of message does not need you to perform any action so it usually only as an "OK" button to clear the message after you read it.

Confirmations - A decision needs to be made and your computer needs to know what to do. This type of message usually has "Yes" and 'No" buttons but can sometimes have a "Cancel" button too.

Prompts - Your computer needs you to enter information before it can proceed.

A malicious programmer can display a scary looking message to make you believe there is a problem, and then trick you into answering how they want you to answer. Therefore it is in your best interest to start paying attention NOW, and reading all messages so that you'll be better able to recognize a fraud when you see one. If you receive a message you don't understand, don't assume it is an error and click a button just to get rid of the message. At least look at it so that you can determine if it is an error. I have personally heard many people that when I've asked "What did the error message say?" they respond with "I don't know, I didn't read what it said, I just clicked OK." If you didn't read the message, then what makes you think it was an error?

Messages are presented to you for a reason, and that reason is usually as a last resort when your computer doesn't know what else to do. Don't repay its loyalty by telling it to step off a cliff.

Happy Computing.

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