The origins of "bug"

One of the commonly believed origins of the term “bug” (as used in the software context) is the anecdote of a dead moth being causing the malfunction of the Mark II computer in Harvard in 1947. Well, it turns out that the term bug is much older and predates the computer industry by a pretty big margin. I found this out while reading Robert Cringely’s weekly post on Apple’s HD strategy (it is an interesting article by the way) where he’s mentioned the incident and the possible origins as a side note:

It turns out that “bug” was a common term for hardware glitches and dates back to the 19th century and possibly before. Edison used the term in a letter he wrote in 1878. This is no earthshaking news, of course, but simply reminds me how self-centered we are as an industry and there really isn’t much that’s truly new.

Wikipedia also mentions more or less the same thing in the etymology section for software bugs:

While it is certain that the Mark II operators did not coin the term “bug”, it has been suggested that they did coin the related term, “debug“. Even this is unlikely, since the Oxford English Dictionary entry for “debug” contains a use of “debugging” in the context of airplane engines in 1945 (see the debugging article for more).

So that clears up some word origins I guess, but the computer industry can take consolation in finding the first “real” bug :-).

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IBM and Feb 14

Just discovered this bit from the Geekend blog:

Feb. 14, 1924, IBM is founded.

Also checked wikipedia:

On February 14, 1924, CTR changed its name to International Business Machines Corporation. At the helm during this period, Watson played a central role in establishing what would become the IBM organization and culture.

The real story behind the space pen

The story of NASA spending millions of dollars to create a pen that worked in space for their astronauts, while the Russians just opted to use pencils, is often cited as a KISS example. However, it turns out that it’s just that – a story, and not the reality.

I first came across the actual story behind the space pen in the Geek Trivia article of TechRepublic. Apparently, both the Americans and Russians opted to use pencils initially, but turned out to have several problems due to the tips breaking off, and their flammable nature (in the high oxygen environment). NASA did opt to use mechanical pencils initially, but they were pretty expensive (almost $130).

In the end both parties started using the space pen developed by the Fisher Pen company which was a lot cheaper ($2.39 after a bulk discount). The research behind development of the pen did require around a million dollars, and patented in 1965. But, this was done by the pen company and not NASA. Also, if you are interested in buying one, it costs around $50.

There is also a detailed Scientific American article on the space pen which appeared last December.

Pangrams & Golygons

I was browsing wikipedia where I came across self-enumerating pangrams which are sentences that describe exactly the number of letters in itself. As per the wikipedia page on pangrams, Lee Sallows came up with one of the first self-enumerating pangrams, in 1984. In fact, he constructed a machine for this task when solving the problem through software alone failed.

As for pangrams, they are sentences using every letter of the alphabet atleast once, with perfect pangrams being sentences in which each alphabet appears exactly once. A well known English pangram is The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.

I also found some information on another interesting piece – golygons – when I was looking for more information on Lee Sallows, who invented them. Golygons are polygons with side lengths as consecutive integers and all right angles.