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Finding a Use for Errors

Thursday, November 28, 2002

Ah, the aloof computer programmer. Are they benevolent mystics dabbling in a reality not quite our own, making it possible for us to communicate asynchronously across great distances. It seems as though they are able to talk with the inanimate using nothing but long strings of 1's and 0's. Yet, they can't write a useful error message to save their everlasting souls. So, for your amusement, we'd like to point you to some sites which detail just how little programmers understand not just computers but people as well.

The first site is Attrition.org, which collects a long list of errors generated by computers. Some of these errors are almost helpful while others don't even come close. Some are just humorous, others are obviously meant demonstrate the programmer's educated background. But aren't programmers supposed to be good at math? Maybe they know something we don't. Of course, let's not overlook the fact that some errors aren't even errors at all. It's a Zen thing.

Another site, IArchitect.com, follows up in more detail. They point out that sometimes programmers just forget to show us the error. Other times programmers apparently find us unworthy of seeing the error. Though we might think all errors are unexpected, programmers don't necessarily see it the same way. It's not too much to ask that we be polite, but couldn't we ask the same courtesy. On the other hand, sometimes it seems they are being a bit overly helpful.

Of course, it would be naive to think that all programmers agree. I mean, it seems there is even a disagreement over which dates are really dates. Ironically enough, while developing a Web site, we were once surprised to have Netscape inform us that "2 is not a number." That was news to us. Nevertheless, it seems we get the last laugh as even the error messages have errors.

So, this Thanksgiving we'd just like to say we're thankful for computers, the programs that run on them, and the endless amounts of amusement that they so often provide. In particular, we'd like to thank the computer programmer, whose fallibility reminds us that they are indeed human if not easily understood.


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