The Norman Transcript

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July 7, 2013

Strange computer error messages

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.

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