February 9th, 2004

Error Message

Last Friday, while working on a server at one of my schools, I ran across the strangest error message ever. I was on the phone with my boss as he was leading me through the steps to try to solve an IP problem when the following error message came up on the screen:

“Tossing beasts still are in use.”

I don’t know how much or how little you know about computers – frankly, it doesn’t matter. I know a lot about computers but not very much about Novell, which is the operating system in question. My boss knows a lot about Novell. Neither of us had ever seen anything quite like that before.

Not only is it grammatically incorrect, it’s just very…odd.

First, no computer system I’m aware of uses beasts of any sort. It’s true that different versions of Linux use different animal mascots (penguin, lizard), but they don’t affect the computer systems.

Second, the beasts in question here are of the tossing variety. I’m not sure if that means the beasts are doing the tossing or the beasts are being tossed. It isn’t specified. What would the beasts be tossing? If they are monkeys, then I might have an idea… Who is tossing these beasts? Why? Is this some sort of Olympic event?

Third, these beasts are still in use. This implies that they’ve been in use for at least a little while and that they continue to be so. This frightens me on a level I can only just barely sense.

Fourth, if “tossing beasts” is some sort of variable (like “x” in the equation “x=2a+4c”), it is obviously some sort of multiple variable, as indicated by the use of the verb “are.” More than one of these beasts is in use at the present time. If you’re going to use an odd phrase as a variable, why not get specific? List the beasts that are being used. “A tossing zebra is still in use.” “A tossing emu is still in use.” “A tossing wombat is still in use.” Don’t leave us hanging – present the entire menagerie!

Fifth, carry it out. I feel it’s important to stick to your metaphor. If we’re going to be using beasts in our system, let’s use them all the way. The whole realm of computers could be the Savannah, perhaps, with antivirus programs being the vultures that clean up the dead meat of infected files. The operating system could be a lion, king of the beasts. Files could be cheetahs, zebras, monkeys, giraffes, hyenas, wart hogs, or meerkats, depending on their variety. Having to restart your computer because it is hung up could be attributed to the “Circle of Life.” Of course, this is folly. No designer of software wants to fall prey to the old adage “For tis the sport to have the enginer hoist on his own petard.” If his software goes awry, it would be said to have “too many snakes in the grass” and it might be suggested that he be thrown to the lions or have some other animal-related punishment meted out. If “let the punishment fit the crime” is the rule of the day, it might be best if you stayed away from dangerous themes when determing your metaphor.

While we were waiting for the server to reboot, my boss did some research on Novell’s site and found that the message dealt with a user not having enough rights in Unix to do something he was trying to do. I’m not going to get into why that’s ridiculous, but suffice to say that we’re not using Unix, and it still doesn’t explain why “tossing beasts still are in use.”

So be thankful the next time you get an “Internet Explorer has caused a page protection fault” message. That makes way more sense, doesn’t it?

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