Error Message Effectiveness

A poor underlying model is often revealed through casually thrown (or thrown off) error messages. One post hoc way to address this deficiency -- though it may not improve the model's weaknesses -- is to request feedback from message recipients.  Microsoft Office users are sometimes requested to indicate whether a particular message is effective, as shown in this screenshot.  Not all messages offer this feature;  it would be interesting to know how Microsoft determines which messages deserve this treatment, and what internal workflow accompanies the feedback.

Posted via email from knowlengr



The Challenge of "Model Level" Software Errors

Most of the screenshots collected in errorprocessing.com involve obvious errors.  Messages that are painfully obvious are thrown onto the screen, or traceback messages of use only to developers replace "normal" screens.  There are other sorts of errors.  Some errors are more abstract, or, stated in MVC / DSL language, occur at a higher level in the software model.  In this case, a screenshot may not reveal the error.

A recent example occurred when activating a replacement phone with Sprint. The Sprint web content that solicited the phone identification strings directed users to phone-specific instructions on programming the phone to reflect the new phone activation steps. I clicked into the phone-specific page, but instead of the new phone's instructions, the web content showed the old phone instructions.  After 15 minutes of browsing the Sprint site failed to find FAQs for the new phone, I resorted to Google, which returned the specific URL needed: http://support.sprint.com/support/device/HTC/HTC_Touch_PRO-PPC6850SP.  Result?  No screenshot, but an error nonetheless.

Considering how software test applications must be developed to detect failures of this sort, it is perhaps clearer why knowledge engineering is an integral part of developing model semantics as an integral part of software engineering.

Posted via email from knowlengr



Error Processing: Problem Statement from 2007

Here's an embed of my 2007 paper presented at the International Conference on Software Quality. Conference was hosted by the American Society for Quality, Software Division.

Outside-In, Ad Hoc Software Quality Through Error Analysis - Get more Business Documents


Internal error from Eclipse

This message was provided by Twitter/rakhtar. ◦


When an FAQ is Wrong

OK, this isn't really an "error" in the sense usually meant in my analysis. But a lapse in help systems can frustrate and delay user solutions. A case in point is Paypal's current FAQ on cancelling recurring payments. It says to go to Account Profile. In fact the correct solution is to display account history, then click into an individual transaction using the unique ID, which can lead to cancelling the recurring "subscription." In pigeon English, here's what it should say:
Account - History - Details (hyperlink on an individual transaction) - Cancel Subscription
Oddly, the designers of many FAQ systems offer a "did this help?" button, but no recourse for a clearly wrong or off-track.

Of course it's possible that I am missing something and that a third solution is possible at paypal.com, but that would also make my point.



steam.exe (main exception): unable to load library Steam.dll

Online gaming now involves a close dependence on servers both to play the games and to perform DRM, updates and other functions. One of the most widely used applications is Valve's Steam. As of this writing, Valve has 13 million active subscribers.

Despite this broad acceptance, and the presumed cadre of software engineers that such market acceptance indirectly supports, the error message that is the title of this blog entry is widespread. To verify this, simply plop the error message into your favorite search engine. The error is widespread, and of course, internationalized.

In the section below, I repeat information contained in the Steam online FAQ's, but one wonders why the error message itself doesn't point to the solutions, thus avoiding some of the public unhappiness expressed by game buyers.


  1. Download Steam installer from Steampowered.

  2. Verify that you have steam.msi with a Verisign signing time of 14 SEP 07 12:06:42. (Obviously this may change – use as a guide).

  3. Install Steam using the default proposed folder.

  4. Run Steam. You’ll see a pleasant "updating" progress screen

  5. (Aside: The Cancel button did not work for me). This application will suck up lots of CPU time for a minute or two, then go quiet, and then quit with an "ERROR" screen.

  6. The error screen shown here appears with this error:

    steam.exe (main exception): unable to load
    library Steam.dll

  7. Run the Steam connection test to see if you are able to access the Steam servers properly. The URL for the connection test (which requires the initial install) is:steam://support/?Issues=Connection*The Steam diagnostic tool (which requires the initial Steam install) is:steam://support/?Issues=*

  8. The previous step will run the Steam client again. If you have the problem discussed here, most likely the Steam client will time out. Rather than say so politely, it issues the ERROR screen above again.

  9. Troubleshooting Review firewall settings required by the Stream client to verify that the required ports are open: UDP 27000-27020 inclusive and TCP 27020-27050 inclusive. (While you’re at it, also open TCP 27015 and UDP 27056 as those are required for dedicated server access. There are specific programs that may interfere with access to Steam servers, and some web hosting firms block these ports in order to block game traffic.

  10. Links as of this date (these may change!):
    Using a Firewall with Steam
    Steam server connection test
    Required ports
    Steam connection tool URL



Just Another "Glitch" Day

Yesterday was a "glitch" (an expression for system failures used by non-technical folks, or by user-indifferent IT specialists) day.

Blackberry servers experienced email delays or interruptions. In the linked-to article, pay close attention to the human messaging content from RIM.

Intuit's ProSeries (I'm a user) and widely used Turbotax e-filing servers either failed to acknowledge filing transactions, or were unable to service their experienced load -- or so the public reports indicated. From a report on Marketplace:

Late tax filers swamped the electronic Turbo Tax servers Tuesday night, preventing some from sending in returns on time. The IRS is telling those 11th-hour filers to get their paperwork in as soon as possible. Host Tess Vigeland asks some folks on the street what "as soon as possible" means to them, and chats with Marketplace's John Dimsdale about potential fallout from the Turbo Tax breakdown