Re. Deciphering cryptic help messages

Subject: Re. Deciphering cryptic help messages
From: Geoff Hart <geoff-h -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
Date: Sat, 14 Oct 1995 09:56:25 LCL

David Castro asked how to fix incomprehensible error
messages when the folks who wrote them are unavailable to
explain the text. Two thought occur to me:

1. (Impractical?) If you've got a beta testing (or
technical support, or quality assurance, or some other
synonym) group, ask them when (in what situations) each
numbered error has been reported by testers. This may give
you enough clues to reconstruct the cause of the error, and
thus the meaning of the message. I called this impractical
because that's a lot of work, and your deadline is probably
too tight; moreover, you may not have beta or other results
since these are occasionally unavailable for first

2. (Likely) Obtain a copy of the product specifications and
see if somewhere, some enlightened soul has specified the
coding scheme for the error messages. (Ex: Errors from 1 to
100 indicate disk I/O problems, from 101-200 indicate
invalid data entry, etc.) You may strike gold here, or you
may just find a few helpful hints. If you understand the
programming language, you might also be able to extract
some meaning from the _comments_ added to the source code,
particularly if the development manager enforces good
commenting practices (i.e., embedding explanations for
program logic, variables, etc. directly in the source

If none of these ideas work, and you're truly desperate
(and your job is hanging on the outcome), kidnap the
experts for a dinner date and grill the propellerheads
while they gorge themselves on their favorite food. (Extend
the work day? Even engineers have to eat sometime, so
consider ambushing them at lunch instead if this is more
convenient.) Most importantly, start putting procedures in
place now so that you don't find yourself in the same
situation next time. I'm doing this now at FERIC, at the
"we have a neat idea for adding programming to our
portfolio of tricks" stage, and the research director was
astounded that nobody had ever thought of this before.
Nobody at FERIC, leastways! <grin>

--Geoff Hart @8^{)}
geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca

Disclaimer: If I didn't commit it in print in one
of our reports, it don't represent FERIC's

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