OK, so the legend goes like this:
Back in the late 1940s, the US Navy financed the building of an electromechanical computer at Harvard University, called the Harvard Mark II. It was basically a super-fast (for the time) calculating machine, made unique because several calculations such as the reciprocal, square root, logarithm and exponential, were built into the hardware, making execution much faster than on other similar machines of the time. Unlike modern computers, the Mark II was not a stored-program computer. Instead, program instructions were read sequentially from a tape, and then executed.
Anyway, back to the legend… On this day, back in 1947, while the Harvard Mark II was doing its thing, humming away (as I presume they did), a technician noted an unusual object trapped in one of the computer’s relays. On closer inspection, he found it was a moth. The moth was removed and taped into the computer’s log book. Grace Hopper, computer scientist and US Navy Rear Admiral, saw the moth entry in the logbook, and added the caption, “First actual case of bug being found”. This reference to a computer problem or glitch as a ‘bug’, caught on with other computer scientists, and has been used ever since, together with terms like debugging, etc.
Much of the above story is true – there was a moth found in the Harvard Mark II, on 9 September 1947 at 15:45. And it was indeed taped into the log book, with the above-noted caption. However, this was far from the first use of the word ‘bug’ to refer to a technical error – small machine glitches have been called ‘bugs’ for many years, with the first known reference coming from a letter written by Thomas Edison in 1878:
“Bugs – as such little faults and difficulties are called – show themselves and months of intense watching, study and labour are requisite before commercial success or failure is certainly reached.”
So, while it would have been cool if this was the real origin of the term computer bug, it sadly wasn’t. What is probably true about the story of Grace Hopper and the Harvard Mark II, is that this may indeed be the first known case of an actual computer bug, or computer moth, to be more exact. Which is still kind of amusing. 🙂
Happy Sunday, everyone – hope you’re not being bugged by bugs of any kind todayyy.y..yy…yyyyy.yy. Bugger…