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The Thirteen Greatest Error Messages of All Time

samzenpus posted more than 5 years ago | from the let-them-down-easy dept.

Bug 623

Technologizer writes "They add insult to injury — and computing wouldn't be the same without 'em. So I rounded up a baker's dozen of the most important error messages in computing history — from Does Not Compute to Abort, Retry, Fail to the Sad Mac to the big kahuna of them all — the mighty Blue Screen of Death. And just in case my judgment is off, I include a poll to let the rest of the world vote for the greatest error message of all." I can't believe that "I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that" didn't make the list.

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and the fourteenth error should be... (5, Funny)

houbou (1097327) | more than 5 years ago | (#25139317)

Error, Windows Vista detected on Drive C: prepare to acknowledge, confirm and reboot.

Kernel Panic!!! (5, Funny)

WED Fan (911325) | more than 5 years ago | (#25139365)

Kernel Panic? Why not just teach that damned kernel some self-defense lessons. Or, at least tell it to grow a set of balls. Just stop the damned Panic.

Re:Kernel Panic!!! (5, Funny)

nbert (785663) | more than 5 years ago | (#25139585)

cd /usr/src/linux && egrep -ir "( fuck)|( shit)" *

Technically most are not error messages, but they are quite interesting.

One I'm missing in the list is "Too many colors". Some very old windows programs refused to work when gfx was set to more than 256 colors.

Re:Kernel Panic!!! (2, Insightful)

electrictroy (912290) | more than 5 years ago | (#25139949)

Most annoying error message? NONE. The computer just freezes-up for no apparent reason, forcing the user to pull a plug. This has been a bane since the earliest days of Ataris, Apples, or Commodores, and it still happens thirty years later. Grrr!

Another common message:


I saw this on my Commodore 64 (MS-BASIC 2.0), but it also happens in other versions of BASIC too. It was the universal error on all computers from the 1960s upto circa 1995 (when GUIs took-over as the dominant interface). I hate the SYNTAX TERROR.

Re:Kernel Panic!!! (3, Funny)

wanderingknight (1103573) | more than 5 years ago | (#25139957)

It's not an error message, but I clearly remember the rather strange comment "Fuck me gently with a chainsaw..." buried along the kernel source files.

Re:and the fourteenth error should be... (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25139401)

Dude, are you trying to make the universe implode? It can only handle 13 errors!

Re:and the fourteenth error should be... (4, Informative)

gnick (1211984) | more than 5 years ago | (#25139945)

That's probably why TFS questions "I'm sorry, Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that" being left out.

Curiosly, though, TFA does say (on page 3 of 5):

I chose to limit myself to one fictional error message in this list, but I could go on: If I ever produce a sequel to this story, I guarantee you that "I'm sorry, Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that" will be on it.

Perhaps Technologizer got tired of clicking through TFA before reaching #5.

Re:and the fourteenth error should be... (1)

morgan_greywolf (835522) | more than 5 years ago | (#25139643)

Whatever happened to...?

  • Unrecoverable Application Error (Windows)
  • General Protection Fault (Windows)
  • Getting randomly dumped to the 'system monitor' prompt (Apple II series)
  • Software detection of a luser! Now arming luser eradication system! (*)

(*) "Invalid command" string on my T.A.G. BBS in the late 80s/early 90s.

Re:and the fourteenth error should be... (5, Funny)

doti (966971) | more than 5 years ago | (#25139873)

Who is General Failure, and why is he reading my hard drive?

The most honest Windows error message (5, Informative)

AliasMarlowe (1042386) | more than 5 years ago | (#25139791)

"Error: The operation completed successfully"
I kid you not. This one was repeatable on any windows box whenever Dr.Watson was invoked after a program crashed. It appeared in win 3.0, 3.1, 3.11, 95, 98, NT, 2000 (don't know about win me, xp or vista). Just click the "save as" button for the error log, then click cancel. Then the magic error appeared in its own box:
"Error: The operation completed successfully"
Dr.Watson terminated as well, of course.

Re:and the fourteenth error should be... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25139917)

If I'd have known about this, I would have posted my Vista favorite:
"The following program has crashed, restart it?
Windows Explorer"

Note: Windows Explorer started, crashed, displayed error message, rebooted, crashed, etc...

Where's the keyboard error? (5, Insightful)

Kentaree (1078787) | more than 5 years ago | (#25139359)

Surely "Keyboard Error: Press Any Key To Continue" should have been in there somewhere?

Re:Where's the keyboard error? (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25139813)

Old bios I had said:
Error: Keyboard Is Missing, Press Any Key To Continue.

Re:Where's the keyboard error? (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25139835)

And our favorite, "Slow Down Cowboy..." , error was not on the list.

Re:Where's the keyboard error? (2, Funny)

RulerOf (975607) | more than 5 years ago | (#25140039)

More specifically:

No Keyboard Detected. Press F1 to Continue.

Gets my top vote hands down.

Missing Option (5, Insightful)

dintech (998802) | more than 5 years ago | (#25139363)

Username or password invalid. It's probably got the most face time...

Is it? (1)

LeedsSideStreets (998417) | more than 5 years ago | (#25139993)

Username or password invalid. It's probably got the most face time...

True, but I would think this generally indicates that the system is working the way it should... giving you appropriate feedback with the input it received. It's not an error message in the sense that the system got itself into some unexpected state and is crashing or otherwise indicating that something went wrong and it doesn't know what to do next.

Your site is padded with ads. Continue? (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25139371)

Somehow, spreading an article across many, many ad-ridden pages is not considered an error.

Re:Your site is padded with ads. Continue? (1)

isBandGeek() (1369017) | more than 5 years ago | (#25139441)

It's just inconvenient to click through, but all the ad content is blocked, for those of you that are smart enough to do so...

Re:Your site is padded with ads. Continue? (5, Interesting)

ThinkTwicePostOnce (1001392) | more than 5 years ago | (#25140067)

I'll bet you'll like the Re-Pagination firefox extension. When you get to the bottom of the first
page, do a right click on the "2" or the word "next" in that list of pages. Then you just scroll
down and see all the pages without clicking on anything more. The extension fetches the pages and
appends them to the bottom. I consider it "jerking the reader around" when sites have lists like that,
and thwarting them always provides a nice feeling of satisfaction and triumph!

Quite a good read. (0, Redundant)

Spazztastic (814296) | more than 5 years ago | (#25139407)

I'm sure all of us have encountered these, then wanted to throw the computer out the window.

Re:Quite a good read. (5, Insightful)

gnick (1211984) | more than 5 years ago | (#25139829)

I've never run into the FailWhale, because I've never tried Twitter. Although I'm confused by TFA's comment:

If you can explain what the image has to do with a Web 2.0 service buckling under extreme traffic, please let me know.

8 little birds trying to carry a whale they have tethered seems like a perfectly appropriate image to accompany a server strain error IMO.

Copy a file or a billion (0, Troll)

Colin Smith (2679) | more than 5 years ago | (#25139427)

And Windows still blue screens on you. Poor thing...

They should associate a wav of a Microsoft engineer's whimpers in the face of Balmer.


Greatest? (2, Insightful)

kellyb9 (954229) | more than 5 years ago | (#25139431)

Having recieved many of these errors in the past, I can't help but point out there is very little that I would consider "Great" about them.

Pac Man's 256th level? (1)

Norwell Bob (982405) | more than 5 years ago | (#25139479)

No mention of Pac-Man's infamous split screen of garbage on the 256th level?

Re:Pac Man's 256th level? (1)

illeism (953119) | more than 5 years ago | (#25140013)

I suggest a new poll:

Have you made it to the 256th level of pacman?

Yep - repeatedly - after my girlfriend left me

Yep - Once


It goes that high?!

Why bother

I pity the foo

Cowboy Neil is a Night Elf Mohawk!

Talk about a missed opportunity- Printer on fire? (-1)

way2trivial (601132) | more than 5 years ago | (#25139485)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lp0_on_fire [wikipedia.org]

how could that classic be dropped?

Re:Talk about a missed opportunity- Printer on fir (5, Insightful)

nbert (785663) | more than 5 years ago | (#25139729)

In similar vein: PC LOAD LETTER

Btw: Of course they didn't modify this message for countries which don't use the Letter format, making it even more confusing...

Re:Talk about a missed opportunity- Printer on fir (5, Funny)

uxr (971179) | more than 5 years ago | (#25139989)


What the fuck does that mean?

Hey I got an error trying to access TFA (3, Funny)

isBandGeek() (1369017) | more than 5 years ago | (#25139493)

The page cannot be found The page you are looking for might have been removed, had its name changed, or is temporarily unavailable. ___ Please try the following: If you typed the page address in the Address bar, make sure that it is spelled correctly. Open the asdf.com home page, and then look for links to the information you want. Click the Back button to try another link. Click Search to look for information on the Internet. HTTP 404 - File not found Internet Explorer

the BSOD screensaver (5, Funny)

gardyloo (512791) | more than 5 years ago | (#25139503)

I just run the "BSOD" screensaver on my linux machine, with all error messages enabled. I love having people come in, pause, say, "Um... looks like your machine is really screwed up". Then I bump the machine out of screensaver mode, and their jaws drop.

Re:the BSOD screensaver (5, Funny)

snspdaarf (1314399) | more than 5 years ago | (#25139891)

We had a guy do that at my office. The boss comes in, sees the BSOD, decides to help out, flips the big red switch on the PC. Hosed the boot sector on the disk.

Re:the BSOD screensaver (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25140059)

Eric is that you?

Bdos error on B: (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25139505)

Bad Sector

Sad Mac and Startup Beep (5, Interesting)

samkass (174571) | more than 5 years ago | (#25139519)

The Mac, having 4-channel wave sound from the beginning, went one better than the PC when it came to the startup failure beep. While the PC would beep out some sequence of single notes indicating hardware errors, the Mac would simply play one chord. A successful bootup was a pleasant chime (sometimes heard on Futurama or other shows when something boots up). However, hardware errors not only produced the sad mac, but a discordant anti-chime. For those with good ears, it was sometimes possible to diagnose some errors by the particular musical dissonance. In particular, some familiar with upgrading the Mac Plus became familiar with a chord indicating bad RAM.

Good times.

Re:Sad Mac and Startup Beep (4, Interesting)

Altus (1034) | more than 5 years ago | (#25139599)

I liked the early powerpc macs that made the sound of a car crash when the failed to boot.

The Mac Programming Works C Compiler... (5, Funny)

Dr. Manhattan (29720) | more than 5 years ago | (#25139865)

...had the best error messages [ralentz.com].

"...And the lord said, `lo, there shall only be case or default labels inside a switch statement'"

"a typedef name was a complete surprise to me at this point in your program"

"`Volatile' and `Register' are not miscible"

"This struct already has a perfectly good definition"

"Symbol table full - fatal heap error; please go buy a RAM upgrade from your local Apple dealer"

"type in (cast) must be scalar; ANSI 3.3.4; page 39, lines 10-11 (I know you don't care, I'm just trying to annoy you)"

...and more.

I'm Sorry . . . (1)

arizwebfoot (1228544) | more than 5 years ago | (#25139527)

"HAL is no longer here, Dave is dead and you now have to talk to BILL and BILL doesn't answer."

--- Oh Well, Bad Karma and all . . .

Linux took humor in error messages even farther: (3, Funny)

J. T. MacLeod (111094) | more than 5 years ago | (#25139533)

I did the write-in option:
"Aiee penguin on the SCSI-bus."

That's the only time I've thrown back my head and laughed when debugging a crash. I can understand how "lp0 on fire" won out for historical significance, though.

A system call that should never fail has failed. (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25139563)

"A system call that should never fail has failed."

A customer read that to me over the phone once. I made him confirm the wording twice to make sure.

Yeah, its a legit error message too - not a malware scare tactic to get a user to click yes, which I had half expected.

I just like the wording. The fact that you bothered to include this error implies to me that you knew there was a chance that the system call could fail.


Re:A system call that should never fail has failed (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25139659)

Just a comment from the system-side of the keyboard;

Sometimes you know a system call can fail but cannot account for or recover meaningfully from that failure in your code. This can be especially true with scientific computing, but is also true for humble malloc()'s and fork()'s.

Re:A system call that should never fail has failed (1)

ClintJCL (264898) | more than 5 years ago | (#25139883)

not true. i think it's good form to add an else, even when the conditions you've programmed don't cause it to ever happen.

You never know.

And mine have definitely come in play for my personal stuff, which I change as-needed. change how an input value is processed prior to the if? the conditions are different. the else that never happened before might happen now. better to print a warning message and at least let the user 'trap the exception' than to do nothing...

Danger Will Robinson (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25139571)

Inserting the wrong memory in a RS/6000 43p machine would yield an error that included the famous phrase: Danger Will Robinson!

A long time ago... (4, Funny)

fahrbot-bot (874524) | more than 5 years ago | (#25139597)

I got something like this from the Csh on a 4.3BSD system. Still makes me laugh:

Assertion Botched: This can't happen.

My Favorite (5, Funny)

azadrozny (576352) | more than 5 years ago | (#25139605)

Some time ago I was running a batch job and the system returned the message, "The system is unwilling to process your request." I figured it was tired of running my programs, and wanted to quit for the day.

Blat foop (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25139607)

I remember getting "BLAT FOOP" as an error message in emacs and finding out what it was.

Now I don't remember how I got it or what it meant. And there isn't much about it online.

Does anybody else know?

My Favs (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25139615)

My personal favorites are Guru Meditation and "lp0 on fire". I had actually forgotten about the printer on fire error because it has been so long since I have seen it (probably 15 years) but that one made me laugh when I first started on UNIX-like systems.

WebTV Anecdote "The Wrong Error Message" (5, Funny)

Burning1 (204959) | more than 5 years ago | (#25139617)

The following story comes from Andy McFadden [fadden.com]:

The wrong error message

In the late hours of September 17th, 1996, the day before the WebTV service was scheduled to go online, a group of us (Rick Daley, Lennart LÃvstrand, me (Andy McFadden), probably Arnold de Leon, plus several others I can't remember) had gathered in the operations center in 275 Alma St., Palo Alto. A collection of network operations and service software engineers were hanging around to bear witness to the official launch of WebTV.

When the fated hour struck, one of the netops folks, Bryce Jasmer, started to go through the registration process with his WebTV box. As with any online service, we figured the good names would go quickly, so it was important to get in and register before The Masses signed up. Besides, there was something nifty about being one of the first people to ever sign up on the "real" service. Until this day, all accounts were "disposable" test accounts.

A few of us were standing around, watching him type, feeling giddy with anticipation and lack of sleep. He'd entered his name, address, and other personal information, and was typing in his user name. This is the name used as the e-mail address. He typed in "jazz", so his e-mail would be "jazz@webtv.net". When he hit "enter" on the wireless keyboard, we heard the "whoom" sound that meant an error dialog was coming up. All eyes turned to the screen.


To understand what happened next, it's important to understand a little something about how the service worked. WebTV was meant to be a family-oriented service, so it was important to screen all user names and other externally visible features for profanity. It's impossible to catch everything, but it's not hard to catch obvious things.

The user names were compared against a set of regular expressions. Regular expressions allow you to match against a pattern. For example, "fu.*bar" would match against all names starting with "fu" and ending with "bar". With carefully-chosen patterns, you can catch and reject blatant instances while accepting words like "shitake" and "matsushita" that have a profane word embedded within them.

The same mechanism was also used to prevent users from selecting "forbidden" names, such as "postmaster", "root", "admin", and "help". We had a text file that looked like this:

        User names may not start with "admin".
        You're not the postmaster.
        That's a bad word.
        That's a bad word.

An entry had two lines. The first was the regular expression to match, the second was the error message that would be displayed to the user. The service code read the file, grabbing two lines at a time, and when a user name was entered it compared the name against every regular expression. An error dialog was displayed for the first one that matched. If nothing matched, the user name was accepted.

The code that read the file knew how to skip over comments. It did not, however, give any special treatment to blank lines.


Someone had made some changes to the file with the profanity expressions, and while doing so had added a single blank line after the end of the "reserved" names and before the start of the profane words. When the code read the filter list, it grabbed the blank line as the regular expression, and the word that followed as the error message. As luck would have it, a blank-line regular expression matched anything.

It's midnight. We're all a little punchy. Bryce types in a user name, and the box responds with a very simple message (click here to view [fadden.com]).

We start laughing hysterically. Other people come over, wondering what's up. We point at the screen. They start laughing hysterically.

Over in a different building, Mark Armstrong (the guy in charge of QA) is sitting with Bruce Leak (one of the company founders) in front of a rack of sixteen WebTV boxes. The setup, dubbed "racksville", is connected via a video multiplexer to a large TV that is showing all 16 boxes simultaneously. They've started through the registration process with all of the boxes, using the infra-red keyboard to broadcast commands. We call them up on speaker phone.

Us: "So, how's it going?"

Them: "Everything's fine here."

Us: "Oh, okay. You might notice something when you register a box."

Them: "Really? We haven't seen anything odd yet."

Us: "You will."

Them: "Okay. We're entering the zip code... seems fine. WHOA!!"

The friendly dialog was now popping up on the screens of all sixteen boxes. They suggested that maybe we ought to fix that glitch sometime soon. We thought that was a fine idea.


We fixed the filter file, and eventually changed the code to recognize and ignore blank lines. As far as I know the WebTV service never said "oh, f--k" to any actual customers.

Homie the Clown (1)

cger68 (942662) | more than 5 years ago | (#25139665)

I once implemented "Homie don't play dat" quite by mistake. One of those, "the users haven't defined this error but I have to put some string here in the mean time" things. Never did go back and clean it up either.

Xerox Sigma series (1)

david.emery (127135) | more than 5 years ago | (#25139677)

A603 - Load Module Does Not Exist

(I think that was the response to a command line typo from the 'shell'.)

As a student learning this stuff, I saw that one a lot! More than 30 years later, I still remember it...


They forgot... (2, Insightful)

wytten (163159) | more than 5 years ago | (#25139719)

"Segmentation fault (core dumped)",
"Parity Error"
and of course "With what? Your bare hands?" :-)

And on the flipside: (5, Insightful)

omarius (52253) | more than 5 years ago | (#25139737)

"Few users will like an error message no matter how well it is designed."
      --Roger S. Pressman, _Software Engineering: A Practitioner's Approach_

File Not Found (1)

192939495969798999 (58312) | more than 5 years ago | (#25139741)

Pleeding Man: Please Don bot, can't you search your hard drive and command dot run your sympathy file?

Don bot: .....File Not Found! (Shoots him)

My Favorites (1)

LordEd (840443) | more than 5 years ago | (#25139747)

I believe this was from a relatively screwed up install of Rational Rose at school.

"Error ~ in module ~".

Very informative.

Why not to trust Wikipedia (3, Informative)

russotto (537200) | more than 5 years ago | (#25139773)

The article cites Wikipedia in claiming that the Sad Mac dates from 1987, not 1984. Nope; it's 1984. Just hit the interrupt button on the programmer's switch and you got a sad mac (000F 000D, if I remember correctly -- 2 groups of 4 hex digits for the 68000-based machines). Of course, that's from personal experience so Wikipedia: No Original Research means I can't correct the erroneous Wikipedia page. And then some idiot bot is wanting to remove the "bomb" image from the wiki article because of copyright issues....

Someone else removed the 1987 date, but the 1984 date still isn't there.

General Failure Reading Hard Drive (1)

netglen (253539) | more than 5 years ago | (#25139797)

Bah. What ever happened to the user complaint "Who is General Failure and why is he reading my hard drive!"

Re:General Failure Reading Hard Drive (1)

geminidomino (614729) | more than 5 years ago | (#25140001)

Always told them he was a high ranking Army official working for the government. Managed to get one guy to throw his PC out the front door.

Long long long is too long (3, Funny)

getuid() (1305889) | more than 5 years ago | (#25139849)

cat << EOF > foo.c
long long long foo;
int main () {}

$ gcc foo.c -o foo
foo.c:1: error: 'long long long' is too long for GCC

Anonymous Coward (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25139853)

Monkey + keyboard =

And yes it took me 1/2 an hour to figure out wtf that meant, which is why I'm posting as Anonymous Coward. It's also why I *love* *nix. No BS, straight to the point.

Guru meditation (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25139859)

Another candidate in the Worst Unhelpful Error Messages:

"Guru meditation" on Amiga.

UNIX: Please contact your system administrator (1)

bonkeydcow (1186443) | more than 5 years ago | (#25139889)

As a system administrator, I hated this message test. Especially when it happened to me!!!

Beware (4, Interesting)

codepunk (167897) | more than 5 years ago | (#25139893)

One day I got a call from engineering that told me they where getting a error in a vb application. When I get
there to have a look they told me the engineer that wrote the code had unfortunately died the day before at a
fairly young age of a hear attack. The error showing was, "Beware The Man Behind The Curtain"...talk about creepy..


Reply Hazy, Ask Again (4, Funny)

2short (466733) | more than 5 years ago | (#25139895)

Back in the DOS days, I once used a hex editor to find the string "Bad Command or Filename" and replace it with "Reply Hazy, Ask Again". That was fun, but when my coworker got that machine in a reshuffle, she was confused. I explained what I had done, but she couldn't get her brain around the idea that that error was just a string of characters on the disk; that it didn't mean anything different. So she kept asking me about it until she got a new machine along with her promotion to head of tech support. Wow, that job sucked.

Commodore 64 GEOS (1)

jwilcox154 (469038) | more than 5 years ago | (#25139897)

My Favorite is an unrecoverable error from GEOS:

"System Error Near $37BF*"

*Or insert any 16bit Memory address here

"suddenly the Dungeon collapses!! -You die..." (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25139903)

from screen segfaulting

The message from HAL9000 (4, Insightful)

treeves (963993) | more than 5 years ago | (#25139909)

"I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that" isn't quite an error message. It might be called a bug, since it was an unexpected consequence of HAL's gaining his own volition, although even that is arguable. It may be considered a natural extension of HAL's programming aimed at protecting the mission. But it certainly wasn't a canned response to an internal error.

2001 is one of my all-time favorite movies.

Guru Meditation (2, Interesting)

Hatta (162192) | more than 5 years ago | (#25139937)

I happen to have an Amiga Joyboard and a copy of Mogul Mania. Anyone know how much weight this thing can handle?

I'd like to try it out, but I don't know if this thing can handle 180lbs of adult male.

Macintosh error... (1)

msauve (701917) | more than 5 years ago | (#25139999)

the first Macs could also show an error dialog listing a "DS xx error." In the very first Mac developer documentation, a listing revealed that "DS" stood for "Deep Shit." Later revisions changed that to "Dire Straits."

What about this one? (1)

clone53421 (1310749) | more than 5 years ago | (#25140019)

Save as a batch file (.bat) and execute on Windows...

@echo off
echo a > dbg.txt
echo int 18 >> dbg.txt
echo. >> dbg.txt
echo g >> dbg.txt
debug.exe < dbg.txt

"Computer says no..." (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25140027)

Little Britain? Anyone?

What? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25140033)

"unknown file not found" in Windows...

What? You didn't find the file you weren't looking for?

I also like: (2, Funny)

omarius (52253) | more than 5 years ago | (#25140057)

"Aieee, killing interrupt handler" (Linux kernel)

PS, hey, I still have Excellent karma... why no bonus? Now I'm, like, nobody!

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