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Et Tu Porsche?

Entry 1994, on 2019-08-05 at 16:21:10 (Rating 2, Computers)

I recently updated my web server, and despite my careful planning, there was a "glitch" which meant my site was off-line for about 20 minutes. This may not sound like a big deal, because I don't really host anything of great importance, but it is a matter of professional pride to me to try to keep my down-time to a minimum.

The problem turned out to be the different way my fibre router interprets port forwarding, so that my old notes, based on a previous router, didn't work. This meant I spent about 10 minutes changing settings a second time, rebooting, etc unnecessarily. And a second problem didn't help where Apple's web server software defaulted to re-routing all incoming traffic to a secure port rather than the default http.

So what should have been 30 seconds down time, which is the time between disconnecting the old server and connecting the new server, turned out to be closer to 30 minutes, which was pretty annoying. But I do feel a lot better about my rare errors when I see far worse problems in commercial software and on (so-called) professionally run corporate web sites.

In fact, to make myself feel better after I make a mistake, and just for general entertainment at other times, I keep a folder of screenshots of errors I come across in my daily computer use. And I thought it might be fun to share some in this post, so here are some examples...

First, there is the generic web site fail errors, like this one from New Zealand Post: "NZ Post is currently experiencing technical difficulties." Well, that's helpful. Any idea about what sort of error that might be, and what I should do about it? Also, why do these "technical difficulties" happen so often?

Apple aren't immune from problems, and their error and progress messages can often be entertaining. For example, during a system update the progress dialog told me I had "NaN remaining". If you don't know, "NaN" is a special code meaning "not a number" and is often created by a divide by zero or a similar operation. But errors concerning zero are tricky: this one could have easily got an error message too: "Currently displaying page 0 of 0". I guess I was NaN percent of the way through the document!

Even a rock solid operating system like Unix can give some interesting messages. I was recently testing a network using the "ping" command, which sends a very simple message to another device and waits for a response to say "I'm here". The time taken to respond can reveal information about the performance of the network and computers involved. So you can imagine how impressed I was when I got a ping time of -372 ms. The remote computer responded about a third of a second before I even sent the request. Now, that's a fast network!

My ISP, Orcon, has had a few interesting glitches in the past. For example, on one occasion their network status page was blank. The corporate colour scheme was there, so there was some network activity happening, but there was no text. How should I interpret this? Are there problems or not? But this was a few days after they sent me a bill requesting payment for $0, so it shouldn't have been a surprise. I have to be fair and say other ISPs are just as bad. I got this from Sprak, for example "Oops this embarrassing. Our system failed to complete your request". At least they were embarrassed!

Then there are errors which are even more confusing. I rarely use Microsoft software or services, but my clients do, so I occasionally let my standards slip, and on one occasion I tried to upload a JPEG to set a photo for my profile there. I got an error message to the effect of "A JPEG file is not a format Microsoft supports, please try a different format, such as JPEG, instead". I know the file was OK because I had used it on many other sites, so I'm still mystified about what was happening there.

Having health data on the internet is great, because it avoids confusing and time consuming calls to health professionals, but it's unfortunate that many of these services are so poor. A while back I received "Manage My Health, service call failed: 0 error." So zero error is bad, or is that no error? And what should I do? But other sites try to give you an error message where the programmer has messed up the code so that you are left more confused than you were before their attempts. I got the following message on LinkedIn: {"debugmessage":""}. Well, that's a nice try, but not helpful to the average person.

Sometimes the error message sort of makes sense but the options the user has are not helpful. For example, iOS told me that "there are no upgrades available", then gave me the choice of two buttons: "Yes" or "No". I chose "No" but there were still no upgrades available! Another iOS app asked me if I would like to "Mark all articles as read?", with the options "Yes" and "Yes". Nice to have the choice!

Then there are the generic errors which really mean nothing. Here are a few: Microsoft telling me "there's a temporary problem with this service, please try again later." New Zealand's IRD generates many errors, such as: "page not available", "system error", and "unable to process your request at this time". Even Internet New Zealand's site creates random errors, such as "PDO error". And I've lost count of the number of errors the NZ Herald site generates, like "VIDEO CLOUD ERR NOT...", "502 bad gateway", "Baaah! page not found", and "Error from backend server 503". Then there's this very frequent message from Facebook: "sorry something went wrong" (so specific). And on various other sites: "Oops something went wrong", "The website has encountered an error which cannot be recovered from" , "BBC backend not available", "MYOB, error 404 page not found", "Apple: 502 bad gateway", and "TradeMe: Oops there was a slip up" (with a picture of a cute kiwi which has fallen over).

Web sites often like to provide dynamic data, such as greeting you based on your actual name, to give that personal touch, but when I got "Hello $(notification. message. discussion. topicMessage. author, login)" on a Cisco site, I didn't really feel much better than if I had been greeted as something generic, like "user". Another example of this happened on the Act (a New Zealand political party) web site where I saw "With your help we were able to deliver onclick="window.open(...".

I sometimes use Apple's dictionary screensaver which displays random words and definitions when the screen sleeps. But sometimes things go wrong. I recently got the message "(entry not found)", ironically the word it was trying to find was "fraudulent"!

Sometimes there is no actual error, but in some ways you wish there was. I recently made the mistake of doing some Windows support and, when trying to download a user's email, I was informed the data transfer speed was "19 bytes/s." OK, I'll come back in a decade or two, and see if that finished OK!

But the ultimate failure is the old system crash on a public display. This almost always involves Windows, because that is almost certainly the least reliable OS around, but also because, for some odd reason, it is also widely used. So PowerPoint presentations often crash with error messages such as "the instruction at 0x6018cde1 referenced memory at 0x00000000 the memory couldn't be written". Not a good look, especially when the error stays there for several days.

Finally, it can happen to anybody, even a company which represents the epitome of fine engineering! I recently got this when visiting Porsche's site: "Dokument nicht gefunden." Even with my limited German the message was obvious! Et Tu Porsche?

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