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This has always bugged me

Omar Rahim, here, with my first blog post.

When I thought about starting to do some occasional posting, I figured I’d be writing about embedded vision. But then I happened on this article, and thought I’d start here.  Starting with this topic actually makes some sense – at least to me – as I’ve always been curious about how the term “bug” came into use to refer to a hardware or software glitch.

James Huggins starts out his explanation by relating a funny story about an early computer at Harvard University way back in the day:

On the 9th of September, 1947, when the machine was experiencing problems, an investigation showed that there was a moth trapped between the point of Relay #70, in Panel F.

The operators removed the moth and affixed it to the log…The entry reads: “First actual case of bug being found.”

The word went out that they had “debugged” the machine and the term “debugging a computer program” was born. (Source: James Huggins.com)

These guys had actually found a real bug, but that doesn’t tell us how the word came into use to begin with. And it had been in use for a while. During WWII, it referred to radar problems. In the late nineteenth century, as electricity came into widespread use, “bugs” were sometimes used to define bad connections. Before that time, it was used in telegraphy:

There were the older “manual” keyers that required the operator to code the dots and dashes. And there were the newer, semi-automatic keyers that would send a string of dots automatically. These semi-automatic keyers were called “bugs”. One of the most common brands of these keyers, the Vibroplex, used (and still does use) a graphic of a beetle.

These semi-automatic “bugs” were very useful, but required both skill and experience to use. If you were not experienced, using such a “bug” would mean garbled Morse Code.

No guarantee that all this is 100% factual. (I’m an engineer, so of course I do worry about these things.) But it is an interesting explanation of how “bug” came into use.

So one less thing to keep bugging me! (Of course, now I have to wonder how we started using the word “bug” to mean “bother”.)