Programmers add 'error trapping' to their work

Recently I have been teaching a beginning Windows class and it has been a humbling experience. A good number of the adults in the class never have sat before a computer. For them it's a brand new adventure.

As we go through the lessons, what is the "box" or processor, what does the monitor do and how does the mouse operate, I can't help but think of the new vocabulary that has to be learned in order to operate a computer.

And then I think of the expectations. When they click on a program icon, the program should start. When they click "print," something should come out of the printer. In other words, it should work like a car. Turn the key and the car starts and you drive off. (I drive an older car but I still expect it to work and it does, most of the time.)

Imagine their puzzlement when a message appears, "cannot write to LPT1..." when they try to print. What in the world is LPT1? What does the message mean? What should they do? (For the geeks, LPT1 is the parallel port to which the printers were attached before USB.) Does "illegal operation" mean that someone is going to knock on the door at 4 a.m. and arrest you?

How can anyone learn to operate a computer? Will the programmers at Microsoft and other places ever realize that their programs and the machines are not all operated by people with computer science degrees?

The programmers, when they write a computer program, do what is called "error trapping." That is, they try to anticipate all the errors or mistakes that can happen and write appropriate messages for each of them. How about a message that says, "the printer does not appear to be working. Have you checked to see if there is paper? If it still does not work, turn off the machine and then turn it back on....." For "illegal operation," why not say, "the machine has encountered an error that it cannot correct. Turn off the machine and then turn it back on...."

Possibly each programmer should be required to teach a beginning computer course. Maybe they would better appreciate the confusion they cause.

I guess all this rambling is because I don't know what to tell beginners when these confusing messages appear and other strange things happen. All I can suggest is that they call their children, grandchildren or the neighborhood fourteen year old computer whiz. Of course, I suggest that they come in any Friday to 'Coffee and Computers' and see if the group has suggestions.

So teaching this beginning class has brought me back down to earth and taught me to appreciate the courage these adults have to tackle this new and foreign technology.

If you would like to hear more about computer problems, or other computer topics, visit "Coffee and Computers" at the Tustin Area Senior Center, 200 S. 'C' Street, any Friday morning from 9 a.m. until noon. Bring your questions or just come in and visit.

In the mean time, keep the neurons happy, synapses snapping and enjoy computing.


Dr. Art Holub is a long time resident of Tustin and teaches computer and Internet courses at the Tustin Area Senior Center and the Tustin Adult School. Visit his web site at: This column is written to address the computer adventures and concerns of older adults. If you have comments, questions or suggestions for future columns, Email HIM at:

Return to Doc's Home Page