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Anecdotes: The First Bug-Discussion

IP.com Disclosure Number: IPCOM000129692D
Original Publication Date: 1991-Sep-30
Included in the Prior Art Database: 2005-Oct-06
Document File: 2 page(s) / 15K

Publishing Venue

Software Patent Institute

Related People

John H. Palmer: AUTHOR [+2]

Abstract

Editor's Note: We have published in this space Grace Hopper's story about the ill-fated moth she claims may have been the first ";bug"; in a computer, as referenced in the letter below. The republication in the 10th anniversary issue moved John Palmer of IBM to write us. When we received this letter, we sent it and a copy of the package of supporting materials Mr. Palmer included that substantiated his points about the various dates and places in his letter, to Admiral Hopper. She has not replied, so we are publishing this letter now in the hope that some others who participated in the use of the Harvard machines can come forward and corroborate or correct the available evidence. 5 May 1989 Dear Professor Tomayko, I am writing concerning reprints of ";The First Bug"; and ";Whence the Bug?"; (Annals of the History of Computing Vol.10, No.4, pp.340-342). My context is neither etymological nor entomological. Instead, I wish to point out a conspicuous error in Admiral Grace M. Hopper's original account. As the story passes from informal reminiscence to industry legend, it must endure the scrutiny advocated in 1972 by N. Metropolis and J. Worlton in ";A Trilogy on Errors in the History of Computing,"; (Annals of the History of Computing Vol. 2, No. I, January 1980).

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THIS DOCUMENT IS AN APPROXIMATE REPRESENTATION OF THE ORIGINAL.

Copyright ©; 1991 by the American Federation of Information Processing Societies, Inc. Used with permission.

Anecdotes: The First Bug-Discussion

John H. Palmer

Editor's Note: We have published in this space Grace Hopper's story about the ill-fated moth she claims may have been the first "bug" in a computer, as referenced in the letter below. The republication in the 10th anniversary issue moved John Palmer of IBM to write us. When we received this letter, we sent it and a copy of the package of supporting materials Mr. Palmer included that substantiated his points about the various dates and places in his letter, to Admiral Hopper. She has not replied, so we are publishing this letter now in the hope that some others who participated in the use of the Harvard machines can come forward and corroborate or correct the available evidence.

5 May 1989 Dear Professor Tomayko,

I am writing concerning reprints of "The First Bug" and "Whence the Bug?" (Annals of the History of Computing Vol.10, No.4, pp.340-342). My context is neither etymological nor entomological. Instead, I wish to point out a conspicuous error in Admiral Grace M. Hopper's original account. As the story passes from informal reminiscence to industry legend, it must endure the scrutiny advocated in 1972 by N. Metropolis and J. Worlton in "A Trilogy on Errors in the History of Computing," (Annals of the History of Computing Vol. 2, No. I, January 1980).

Hopper recalled (Annals of the History of Computing Vol. 3, No.3, pp. 285-286, July 1981) that in 1945, on the day of the moth's terminal flight, Harvard-developed Mark 11 executed in an unanticipated manner. The flyer's remains were preserved in the logbook with an appropriate entry, establishing the date as 9 September and the time as 3:45 p.m.

Yet contemporaneous published documents reveal that in September 1945 Mark 11 could not have been running in the manner indicated by adjacent logbook entries, e.g., computing arctangents by the hour. It was nearly two years later that the machine Oust solved test problems. Either the year or the machine identification is incorrect -- or both are. Documented Mark II milestones are:

November 1944 Navy Bureau of Ordnance enlists Harvard.

February 1945 Harvard's preliminary report is approved.

Spring 1945 Full scale design begins.

Ca. Spring 1946 Full scale construction begins.

January 1947 Various units have been individually tested; wirin...