The Norman Transcript

July 7, 2013

Strange computer error messages

The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — This message pops up on my screen all of the time, uh, I don’t know, something about an error.” “OK, what does it say? What kind of error?” “Gee, I don’t remember what is says, I just keep closing the message, and then the computer freezes up.”

I’m involved in conversations like this all too often, when a client is panicked by an intimidating Windows error message that seems to be written in geek hieroglyphics. My final instructions are almost always the same, “Next time it happens, be sure to write down what the error message says, so we can figure out what’s going on. Write it down!” With the clues provided in the error message, the technician’s job of repairing your computer can be greatly simplified. Here are some common Windows error messages, and what they mean:

“A fatal exception has occurred at…” This error message is usually followed by a string of numbers and letters, which can help in diagnosing your computer’s problem. They often indicate that a program has tried to execute a faulty command, or access faulty or nonexistent hardware. This can be brought on by a poorly written program, and not from something that you did. Fatal exception errors are, in a sense, fatal, in that you usually have to kill what you were doing and restart the machine.

“This program has performed an illegal operation and will be shut down.” No, it’s not time to send your computer to jail, but it does make me wonder why computers should be allowed to perform illegal operations in the first place. This usually occurs when a program tries to read or write to a part of the computer’s memory that another program has placed off limits. Many Windows programs are written using the C and C++ programming languages, and memory allocation errors have plagued less-than-perfect Windows programmers for years. Make a note of what you were doing when this error occurred. If the error repeats itself under the same circumstances, you have a valuable clue.

“General Protection Fault!” A GPF error is, again, often caused by lousy programming, indicating conflicts between programs and Windows. Sometimes, you won’t even see an error message; your computer will simply fail to respond, and you’ll be forced to reboot, or, it may even spontaneously reboot by itself. Computer gamers experience GPFs more frequently than “normal” computer users, as they are usually pushing the hardware performance of their machines to the limit. GPFs can sometimes be fixed by updating programs or device drivers.

There are hundreds of different Windows error messages that can be encountered. However, don’t panic; the message is a tool to help find a solution. Write down what the error message says, and then, see if the error can be reproduced. Does it always occur when you attempt the same computer chores, or is it completely random? Problems are easier to solve after you have gathered all of your clues together.

“Type 10 error line 1111 trap error.” While I’ve only mentioned Microsoft Windows error messages so far, this one is specific to an Apple Macintosh computer. Yes, Macs have problems, too, so if your Mac tosses up an error message, be sure to write down what it says.

Some programmers from Microsoft must also belong to the Comedy of Errors Department, as some Windows error messages are so stupefying and unhelpful that they seem to be designed to do nothing but make your head hurt. The following message, generated by the Outlook Express email program, is a good example: “There was an error opening this message. An error has occurred.” Ouch. Sorry, I can’t help you with that one.

Dave Moore has been performing computer consulting, repairs, security and networking in Oklahoma since 1984. He also teaches computer safety workshops for public and private organizations. He can be reached at 405-919-9901 or