March 15th, 2010


The purpose of modern American society...

... is to confuse future linguists. I mean, yes, okay: most instances aren't quite as obscure as the suffix "-gate" meaning "a political disaster". But with "-geddon" now added as meaning "a natural disaster", surely someone is going to wind up arguing that "-g-d" is the underlying root meaning "disaster", and there must be *some* religious implication of that, right?

(This rant brought to you by today's popular Twitter hashtag, #rainageddon, which I believe now officially marks it as a meme...)

Today's prize for unhelpful error message goes to...

(drum roll, please)

... Microsoft Outlook, for the following delight:
Outlook is using an old copy of your Offline Folder file (.ost). Exit Outlook, delete the .ost file, and restart Outlook. A new file will be automatically created the next time you initiate a send/receive.
Okay, points to them for at least telling me roughly what I need to do, instead of simply crashing. But not only does it not offer to fix the problem for me, it doesn't tell me *where* this old .ost file is. I mean, I've got 150 Gig filled on this hard drive, and probably 50 major directories of Microsoft application crap. So I really have little desire to go hunting for some random file that happens to have the suffix .ost, and I'm pretty sure that Windows Search will churn for an hour looking for it.

(Help me, Obi-Wan Google. You're my only hope!)

ETA: Having just had a discussion at work about a very similar problem (an error message that said "missing required attribute 'source'" on an XML document, but not saying which node the missing element was on), let's draw a moral from both stories:
When you are writing an error message, remember to provide enough *context* to *solve* the problem.
Step back, and assume that you are a user who doesn't know the program perfectly. (After all, if they knew it perfectly, they probably wouldn't have this problem in the first place, right?) Make sure that you include enough breadcrumbs for them to find the solution quickly. Especially for an unrecoverable error, more information is usually better...