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Solutions: Recovering from an 'illegal operation'

© St. Petersburg Times
published September 9, 2002

Q. I have been receiving the message "An illegal operation has been performed." My Internet provider says it has something to do with Windows. I continue to wonder why computers are so difficult. One would think that they would make them simpler to attract more customers. This problem has me completely baffled.

A. You and about 99 percent of the world are baffled by this particular error message. What you are experiencing is called a General Protection Fault. It is usually caused by programs running into unexpected results in memory or linkage structures. If you click the Details button, you will see the program that is having -- but not necessarily causing -- the problem, which may give you a hint of what to check. Sometimes reinstalling Windows can correct this problem (the techno version of "take two aspirin and call me in the morning"). Faulty memory or motherboards can also cause GPFs along with just about anything else. Unless you understand assembler code and have access to Microsoft Windows internals and source code (which would really be an "illegal operation"), solving these problems is usually trial and error.

Since you did not provide any further details, here are some generic type solutions to try. Start with a ScanDisk check (My computer, right-click the C Drive, choose the Tools tab, then click the Error Checking button). Next, try uninstalling, then reinstalling the offending application that showed in the Details window, assuming it is a program you installed and not part of Windows itself. If it is part of Windows (such as Explorer.exe or IExplore.exe), reinstalling Windows sometimes solves the problem. It may be a good idea to run the System File Check (SFC, Windows versions 98 and above) to check for altered system files (run Help and search for SFC for detailed information).

And yes, computers should be easier than they are. But we keep asking them to do more and more, so they keep getting more and more complicated. They started out just having to play a simple game of Pong; now they require ordinary home PC users to be network engineers, understanding TCP-IP, firewalls, hubs and routers.

Riffs for your axe

Q. What's your favorite site for learning the theory of lead guitar riffs? I'm an average guitar player looking to improve my lead guitar playing, but would like to understand it without having to pay an instructor. By the way, I'll give you what you paid new for that Les Paul. For some reason I don't think you'll take me up on that offer.

A. The basics of lead guitar start with the five box positions. A site that lays this out in examples up and down the guitar neck can be found at From there I would move on to understanding and practicing different scales starting with the different pentatonic scales. These are the easiest and the basis of most rock and blues songs. A site that lets you interactively select a scale, then displays a graphic of the entire fretboard according to the selected scale can be found at

One of the sites I mentioned in the story in the Aug. 12 Tech Times was It offers a CD-based study of different lead guitar styles. I have not checked this one out, but most of its stuff is pretty good and inexpensive; most lessons range from $9.99 to $14.99 with minimal, i.e. realistic, shipping and handling fees.

An interesting site is, which talks about music theory and modes. You also may want to check out, where author Richard Daniels has some extensive writings available on the secrets of lead guitar playing.

As I said in the original article, there are plenty of resources available on the Web for people who don't have the time or money for formal instruction. However, formal instruction from the right teacher is probably the best way to go in the long run. And yes, I think I'll pass on the offer for the Les Paul, although I keep it mainly for sentimental reasons. In my old age, I'm finding I prefer the sound and feel of my Strat or Rickenbaker 350.

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