Posted by: Brad Nixon | April 21, 2010

You Are an Idiot. Reboot.

I was a good student. At least as far as grades were concerned. I got good grades. I didn’t study any harder than anyone else, and didn’t work as diligently on homework as many of the other kids. I had a trick. I wasn’t really aware of it at the time, because it was something that came naturally to me, kind of like Walter Johnson’s fastball, I just had it.

I was a good test-taker. Tests rarely intimidated me. Occasionally, yes, in subjects that were difficult (read: math). But, mostly, I was outstanding in tests. I’ve thought a lot about this. I probably practiced hard at that well-documented short-term memory that’s enormously helpful in mastering lots of stuff superficially. Musicians who have to step in at the last minute in a gig know about this: they might never have to play the guitar part on “Disco Inferno” any other time than on one night, but they can learn it on the drive to San Diego for one stand-in night.

I’ve figured out at least one other reason I had a knack for succeeding on tests. I was especially good at listening to what teachers indicated was important, and that’s what I learned. I became an excellent note-taker, and, although I didn’t study those notes all that much, just the physical act of writing down what teachers said reinforced the facts and ideas that were going to matter on the test. Cue short-term memory. Memorize. Repeat. Ace test.

The thing that I resent about this essentially lazy trait of mine is that it made me hyper-sensitive to doing what was expected of me. It was the secret of success in school, but it made me a very conventional thinker and someone who just does the things that he thinks are what’s required.

So, I graduated with good grades. I even got one of those groovy Latin suffixes to my degree. You know, the ascending scale: con carne, magna con carne, summa con carne.

But I did not escape my overweening regard for authority figures. Some folks in the bowels of Sperry and Univac and IBM and NCR had invented computers. Then Bill Gates hired a bunch of freaked-out systems analysis wizards to design software for the personal computer. Today, the computer is my Ultimate Disciplinarian. In keeping with an entire genre of science fiction in which The Computer is more or less the equivalent of the Stern and Disapproving Professor, I constantly fail to toe the thin, hard line it dictates: “Mr. Nixon, you struck a key sequence that is unacceptable!” “Never mind which key sequence, you impertinent upstart. Reboot and try it again!”

Only the computer knows what I did wrong, and it’s not talking. One might get an error message with a code number: “ERROR 404.” Nothing more clearly delineates the gulf between bozo developers and ordinary users than this custom of referring to an error number that gives us no information about what’s wrong or how to fix it. One’s done something wrong: something vague and irresponsible, and will just have to start over again and try to do it right.

Just recently, my computer displayed the final, cataclysmic Armageddon of All Errors: The Blue Screen of Death. I’d only seen it once before in my 25 years of computer use. The exact message escapes me, but it’s exactly equivalent to the information you have when you find yourself in the Superintendant’s office, and he says, “I guess you know why you’re here, Young Man.” It’s not a question. The message on the Blue Screen reads something like, “FATAL ERROR. CONTACT TECHNICAL SUPPORT.” You know darned well they built that blue-colored screen into the firmware so that it wouldn’t seem so harsh a death, instead of being white letters on black or, worse, black letters on white!

So I called the help desk. I actually told the help desk guy that I had the “Blue Screen of Death” and he knew what that was. My god. I read him the message. He kind of chuckled, “Yep, that’s the Blue Screen, all right.”

He dispatched my local tech, who got to my desk while I was somewhere else, maybe out in the lunch room looking at the pretty flowers outside the window so I didn’t have to look at Wolf Blitzer on CNN. I was thinking about all the files that now no longer existed on my computer or anywhere else. When I got back to my desk, the computer was up and running. Salvation. The tech’s explanation when I saw him later: “I turned it off, turned it back on. It came up. Hope it doesn’t happen again.”

“Hope it doesn’t happen again.” Now, how am I supposed to study for THAT test?



  1. I never thought I’d ask this, but: Does anyone know what “Error 404” is? Are there 403 errors that precede it, and if so, does anyone have that list of errors? Are there more than 404 errors? If so, why does only No. 404 pop up?


    • Try Google
      how to fix “error 404”
      I haven’t tried it yet


      • I think I’ll just reboot. I don’t want Error 404 to pop up in any capacity on my screen. If I Googled it, clearly I would be inviting error. My PC would go nuts.


    • 404 – Not Found – The requested file was not found.

      This error and “401 – Unauthorized” or “403 – Forbidden” are the most common errors returned by web servers.

      You can enjoy the full list of HTML error codes here:

      or here:


      • Ah, a word from our programming wizard. Thanks.


      • I have made so many errors in my life that I do not wish to add more to my list by searching for and discovering even more error codes. Sometimes, ignorance is bliss. I am fully capable of making my own errors without the help of the Web.


  2. I think it has a deeper meaning. Kind of along the line of “42” in The Hitchiker’s Guide To The Galaxy”.




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