By Harry McCracken | Thursday, September 18, 2008 at 5:28 am
4. The Red Ring of Death (Xbox 360)
It sounds like a painful, nagging medical condition. In fact, it’s an error message delivered by Microsoft’s Xbox 360 console–but the bad news is that, like “Does Not Compute,” it’s often terminal. The name comes from the fact that the Xbox delivers the bad news by lighting up three of the four quadrants of the illuminated ring that encircles its power button. What it’s telling you is that it’s suffered a breakdown that requires that you ship the console back to Microsoft for repairs. But Xbox owners are so loath to do that that the Web is rife with homegrown cures for the RRoD, and there’s even a $30 e-book on the subject.
The Xbox 360 reportedly suffered from worse-than-usual manufacturing defects in its early years, so lots of gamers have dealt with the heartbreak of RRoD. The good news, such as it is: Microsoft conceded problems with the console and extended the warranty of any unit that suffered a Red Ring of Death. Repairs to defective Xboxes cost the company $1.15 billion–making RRoD a contender for the honor of being the most expensive error message in history.
3. Sad Mac (Macintosh)
Back in the day, serious MS-DOS fans–the kind who sneered at any interface that involved pictures as well as words–derided the Mac for being cute. It was cute. And it insisted on being cute even when it was telling you that it had just crashed, destroying your work in progress.
The “Sad Mac” image might have more accurately been called the Gravely Ill Mac Teetering on the Edge of Death, since it looked more infirm than unhappy. Designed by Susan Kare, it showed up upon bootup when something was seriously wrong with your Mac, instead of the cheery “Happy Mac” that normally greeted you. It was accompanied by the traditional useless hexadecimal codes sported by error messages of the era.
The Sad Mac has such a strong flavor of early Macintosh-ishness that it’s easy to develop a false memory that it was part of the platform from the beginning in 1984. Nope–Wikipedia says it first appeared in 1987. (The nearly-as-famous Bomb error came first.) Sad Mac is no longer with us, but iPods have a Sad iPod error that pays tribute to it; I’m happy to say I’ve yet to see it on any of my own personal iPods.
2. 404 File Not Found (Web)
By any measure, this error–which simply tells you that you’ve attempted to visit a URL that isn’t there–must be one of the most-encountered error messages in history. It’s the only HTTP error that anyone who’s not a Webmaster can quote from memory. And it’s pleasantly harmless, since it almost never brings news any worse than a page having been moved or a typo on your part.
In principle, 404 File Not Found should be one of the dreariest of errors; in fact, many sites take it as an opportunity to be creative. For instance, check out Hulu’s page. And The New Yorker’s. And this one. And this one. There’s even 404 poetry.
Oh, and does the fact this error is called 404 mean there are at least 403 other HTTP errors you might run into? Nope: the first “4″ means it involves a syntax error or can’t be fulfilled, and the “04″ is its sequence within errors of that sort. Here’s the whole fascinating list of HTTP errors–read and enjoy!