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Anniversary of the First Computer Bug 398

aheath writes "According to the US Naval Historical Center the first computer bug was logged on September 9, 1945 at 15:45: "Moth found trapped between points at Relay # 70, Panel F, of the Mark II Aiken Relay Calculator while it was being tested at Harvard University, 9 September 1945. The operators affixed the moth to the computer log, with the entry: "First actual case of bug being found". They put out the word that they had "debugged" the machine, thus introducing the term "debugging a computer program". The Wikipedia has a "computer bug" entry that lists some other "famous bugs" including the fictional HAL 9000 bug. What is your favorite computer bug story?"
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Anniversary of the First Computer Bug

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  • by grub ( 11606 ) <slashdot@grub.net> on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @12:51PM (#6911640) Homepage Journal

    September 9, 1945 at 15:45: "Moth found trapped between points at Relay # 70, Panel F [..] "

    September 10, 1945 at 08:02: "Darl McBride Sr. claims he owns the moth."

    September 10, 1945 at 23:53: "We snuck into Darl's room and put his hand in a bucket of warm water."

    September 11, 1945 at 09:46: "Darl gets to work late but is proud to show us 'his' new bucket. We all hate him."

    • by Incoherent07 ( 695470 ) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @12:53PM (#6911671)
      You forgot

      September 10, 1945 at 13:25: Al Gore claims to have invented the moth.
    • by stripe ( 680068 ) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @02:03PM (#6912520)
      Case #1: Computers failing due to overheating. Turned out the AC vents were clogged. Reason? Wasp nest clogging the AC vents, needed to debug the vents. From a friend that had to do the debugging. Case #2: Ants crawling into computer (Taught me not to eat while working on the insides of my PC) Had to clean out peanut butter & jelly from inside my keyboard once. Keys stuck too much. Case #3: Rats nests inside the computers chewing on cables etc. Big problem at one Texas co-lo. Had to replace all the ethernet cabling. From a site I was consulting at. Case #4: Little kid decides to feed the computer his milk. Milk stopped the computer from booting, but did not fry anything. Worked after we swabbed everything down with alcohol and washed the case off. A friend dropped off the computer for us to fix after finding out it did not work.
      • Back in the day, we had bugs the size of little bitty moths -- not like these modern, new-fangled, gargantuan bugs, the size of whole windows.

        ...and we were grateful!
      • by Ungrounded Lightning ( 62228 ) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @05:58PM (#6915207) Journal
        Case #3: Rats nests inside the computers chewing on cables etc. Big problem at one Texas co-lo. Had to replace all the ethernet cabling.

        Willow Run Labs of the University of Michigan (of BOMARC / Sidewinder fame) built their DIANA analog computer (those were the days) in an old bomber-plant hanger. Room with raised floor in giant wooden building built on a slab, in a rural area.

        So of course some rats got into the area under the raised floor and started chewing up the cables.

        So they got a cat. And they took out a square of raised floor. Cat would go out thorugh the guard station to do his business, then come back in and dive under the floor to do his work.

        This being a classified site, there was a 24-hr guard. Everybody had their badge, which was left at the guard station when out, pinned on shirt when inside.

        In good military tradition (for instance ship's cats and other working or mascot animals are on the personnel roster and recieve commendations and court-martials for exceptionally good or bad behavior), the cat was taken to the security office, photographed, assigned a number, and had a badge made.

        And from then on, when the cat came in he'd stop at the guard station while the guard clipped his badge on his collar before he dived under the floor, and again on the way out for the badge to be removed.

        The cat seemed to have no trouble with this procedure. (No doubt because he saw that everybody else had to go through the same thing - except for doing their own badge pinning.)
  • R-A-I-D?!?! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by inertia@yahoo.com ( 156602 ) * on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @12:52PM (#6911663) Homepage Journal
    Somehow, saying "First actual case of bug being found" seems fake to me. It's like finding cavalry sword from the first world war with the inscription, "Corporal James Smith, Third Mounted Infantry, World War One." You'd know that even if the sword was real, the inscription was years after WWII, making it less valuable, and lessening it's voracity.

    Or is this the first actual case because they suspected before there were actual bugs in the system but never found them?

    Then again maybe it was just prophetic. Like NASA when the STS missions launch(ed): "3...2...1...Liftoff! [message about this mission and it's 'first' for space here]"
  • by Doesn't_Comment_Code ( 692510 ) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @12:54PM (#6911677)

    Those things really multiply don't they?

    First you find ONE in a computer relay. Then, almost sixty years later, they've multiplied so that there's one in every program I write.

    Like cockroaches.

    You just can't get rid of them. They're hard to find. And when you squash one, three more come from nowhere!

  • Etymology (Score:5, Funny)

    by BWJones ( 18351 ) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @12:54PM (#6911681) Homepage Journal
    "Moth found trapped between points at Relay # 70, Panel F, of the Mark II Aiken Relay Calculator

    Cool. I always wondered about the etymology of "computer bug", and now I know the etymology is truly related to entymology. :-)

    • Re:Etymology (Score:2, Informative)

      by stratjakt ( 596332 )
      It's not, really. It's just a popular legend that people like to believe, like the one that Abner Doubleday invented baseball (noone knows who invented baseball or when since similar games had been played for centuries).

      The word bug was in use in the manufacturing and industrial world, meaning what it means today - some little pain in the ass or defect with the system or product.

      I guess this could be the origin of "computer bug", but thats kind of a stretch. It's just a cute story profs like to tell fre
    • now I know the etymology is truly related to entymology

      What's the difference between etymology and entomology?

      It's just a little 'n.

    • Re:Etymology (Score:3, Informative)

      by Zoop ( 59907 )
      Except, of course, to be literal, a moth [bugpeople.org] (order Lepidoptera) is not a bug [cirrusimage.com] (order Hemiptera).
  • by nnnneedles ( 216864 ) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @12:55PM (#6911688)
    Win98 crashing on Bill Gates in front of millions of viewers.
  • by ih8apple ( 607271 ) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @12:55PM (#6911699)
    according to opera... [opera.com]

    "The origin of the word "bug" has wrongly been associated with an incident where a moth was pulled out of a Mark II computer. Apparently, the term was used prior to modern computers to mean an industrial or electrical defect."
  • by asmithmd1 ( 239950 ) * on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @12:56PM (#6911708) Homepage Journal
    By the way they logged the bug, "first actual case of bug being found" the term was already in use and they were pointing out the irony that the bug in this case was a real bug
  • by Anonymous Coward
    My favorite bug was in an existing product that had been on the shelves for a while and went through numerous patches to fix many bugs. Going through the testing, I found the UI could not be moved around the screen with a left handed mouse configuration! Immediately, I dropped the bong and decided a cup of coffee and looking on a few other machines were in order. Did those and the bug was legit. Sent it to development and they scrubbed it "as designed". Silly bug, but I can't believe no one tested or c
    • by Austerity Empowers ( 669817 ) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @01:36PM (#6912202)
      My favorite bug was on a high speed ATM chip designed a few years back. I have heard this story retold by many, and I have nothing but sympathy for the poor guy doing the testing.

      Imagine you have your first silicon back from the fab, never tested, using a brand new process with brand new drivers. You have one development board, because some short sighted, penny pincher manager couldn't imagine why you might want to get a few boards for testing. You turn it on, and the chip goes up, and down...andup....and down... Further investigation via copious TCL/TK scripts pinpoints the problem to the high speed link that provides the chip with it's incoming data.

      "Damn you say", knowing that your alpha customers are mfg'ing boards using this chip as you sit there. Without that high speed serdes the chip is just a very expensive toaster. You know your customers have a second design with a competing chip that will be released in a few weeks (this was 5 years ago, when money was available for this).

      You start to go through your tests on the buffers, first boundary scan tests, then signal integrity tests. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. You probe the device using your handy multimeter and pressing on a pad under the chip, then with the other lead on some exposded trace. "It's connected, gotta be something internal". You can't see any signal integrity problems, nor connectivity problems. No fluctuations in power, no excessive noise, blame the IC team!

      You have a bunch of guys restart their spice simulations with some uber accurate model that will take forever to run, and it comes back with no problems. You have the digital team rerun their test vectors, but nothing.

      Finally you throw your hands in the air after a week of soldering, measuring, calculating, testing, etc. You send the board back to have the ASIC lifted and replaced with a new one. They x-ray the board, just to be sure they didn't crack any traces, and see something funny. Not a crack, but...foreign matter, and it's big. They put it under a magnifying glass and take a picture, which you put on your wall and remember forever.

      The "bug" was a small ant, pressed between the ball of the BGA and the pad, which must have wandered across the board and become stuck before pick and place. Completely invisible, and smashed such that the ball barely made contact with the pad. Heat, vibration, humiditiy, and pressure (of, say, someone holding the chip down while trying to do a conductivity test), all making the difference between working and not working.

      Sometimes there really are bugs in the system!
      • by soloport ( 312487 ) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @03:08PM (#6913259) Homepage
        Reminds me of the time we found a Z80 (yes, this was a while ago) that we could talk into fits!

        I delidded the IC in the reliability lab. It was a plastic case so I had to fire up the bunsen and boil sulfuric acid and use a dropper (fun process!).

        Under the microsope I found that one of the gold leads was just laying on the pin pad. It made enough conatct for the CPU to work -- unless you got real close and said something in a low tone and at just the right, fairly quiet volume.

        For the experience, I feel I know a lot more about the internal workings of women.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @12:57PM (#6911725)
    ...was that an update to Mark II Aiken Relay Calculator (a small screen over the air intake) was developed on 1 September 1945, but the navy was too slow in installing the patch.
  • ...when technicians and programmers found the bugs. Now vendors just release the code and rely on the users to do all the "debugging".
  • Another bug.. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Verteiron ( 224042 ) * on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @12:57PM (#6911732) Homepage
    When I was doing inhouse tech support for a large company that makes green tractors, I got a ticket about a system that was having random lockups. After investigating, I found that the lockups were indeed random, so set out to try swapping the RAM first. Judge of my surprise to find a tiny spider caught against the base of a SIMM, blackened and crispy. If someone had told me that there's enough juice flowing through a RAM chip to fry even a spider, I wouldn't've believed it, but there the little critter was. I couldn't believe that little bug alone would be causing a problem, but on a whim I left the chip in, sans spider, and behold, the system worked perfectly.

    Odd, that.

    And although it's not a bug, I have had someone bring a computer into my shop for locking up, and found a live mouse in it. It escaped into the shop and I believe it lives here on Dorito crumbs to this very day.
  • by jmenezes ( 100986 ) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @12:58PM (#6911739) Homepage
    It's a new and exciting feature!
  • My Favorite Bug (Score:5, Interesting)

    by haplo21112 ( 184264 ) <haplo@epi t h n a .com> on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @12:58PM (#6911747) Homepage
    The Schrodenbug...named after the Theroy of Schrodinger's cat...where by if you put a cat in a box, its not truely dead until you look at it again...

    This is a bug which while in existance in your code has no effect until you happen to notice it, in the code. Then suddenly the effect of having this bug begins to appear. While until you noticed it, the effect never appeared and the program ran as intended.
  • by selderrr ( 523988 ) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @12:59PM (#6911753) Journal
    way back, my first job... only 2 programmers, me and another guy who worked from home over a 9600baud modem. We had no CVS or anything like it(we were noob).

    The "bug" in question was merely him and me modifying the same file every other day. I used i,j,k,z for iterator variables. He had the habit of using i,j,k,m. The file had 2 functions, one with a parameter z, the other with a parameter m.

    I guess you can figure out how horrible such things can get. It took weeks before we figured out it was a naming issue.
  • by AvantLegion ( 595806 ) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @12:59PM (#6911754) Journal
    >> What is your favorite computer bug story?

    Windows ME

  • cute (Score:3, Funny)

    by falsification ( 644190 ) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @12:59PM (#6911756) Journal
    What a cute story!!!!

    Could we please stop hearing about it?

  • by JohnGrahamCumming ( 684871 ) * <slashdotNO@SPAMjgc.org> on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @01:00PM (#6911766) Homepage Journal
    That language implies that this was not the first computer bug found, but more the first physical bug found. And hence it implies that the term "bug" was in use long before that time.

    The The Jargon File covers this and includes a picture of the bug in the entry on "bug [catb.org]" and states:

    Indeed, the use of bug to mean an industrial defect was already established in Thomas Edison's time, and a more specific and rather modern use can be found in an electrical handbook from 1896 (Hawkin's New Catechism of Electricity, Theo. Audel & Co.) which says: "The term 'bug' is used to a limited extent to designate any fault or trouble in the connections or working of electric apparatus." It further notes that the term is "said to have originated in quadruplex telegraphy and have been transferred to all electric apparatus."
  • To Be Specific.... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Caraig ( 186934 ) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @01:00PM (#6911768)
    To be specific, that first bug was recorded by future Admiral "Amazing" Grace Hopper, a (rare female) Line Navy officer (as opposed to a WAVE or Naval Reserve officer.) Her name has gone on to one of the most modern guided missile destroyers. She was quite a remarkable woman, read up on her career if you get the chance.
  • See TechTV for more (Score:5, Informative)

    by arth1 ( 260657 ) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @01:00PM (#6911780) Homepage Journal
    TechTV has some interesting stuff on this:
    1. Twisted List: Five Computer Bugs That Changed the World
    2. Famous Bugs: The First Computer Bug
    3. Famous Bugs: The Funniest Computer Bug
    4. Famous Bugs: The Most Tragic Computer Bug
    5. Famous Bugs: The Most Embarrassing Computer Bug
    6. Famous Bugs: The Most Famous Computer Bug
    See TechTV [techtv.com] for more details.

    I still think the bug in converting between metric and imperial units causing a billion dollar Mars probe to crash is the top one.

    • I still think the bug in converting between metric and imperial units causing a billion dollar Mars probe to crash is the top one.

      It certainly tops their "Most Embarassing Bug" that lists the Mariner I probe U-turning into the Atlantic. Ten million, even in today's dollars, isn't even close to $327M (not $1B as you suggest). Of course, I suspect the launch was covered live, so maybe it is more embarassing.

      Of course, what I found embarassing was the author's inability to comprehend what a NOT is. If you'r
  • Doing some tech work in Brooklyn, NY. I got a call from a small company (3 machines in a business run out of a apartment).

    Well one of the machines was making funny sounds. I heard the machine when I arived and it sounded like a wire was caught in the fan. I opened the case and about 10 very large and nasty roaches ran out, there were about 20 dead ones inside the case.

    It seems the 80mm fan in the back got pushed in an left a nice hole in the case, which the 2 childern in the house used to put food they di
  • by tds67 ( 670584 ) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @01:01PM (#6911798)
    What is your favorite computer bug story?

    I don't know if this counts, but here goes:

    I worked as student help at a college that had a PDP-11 based mainframe. One night it went down. Computer techs were called out but could find nothing wrong. This continued night after night at about the same time each night. So the techs hung around after hours to keep an eye on it.

    Around 6:30pm, the cleaning woman came in with her vaccuum cleaner. She promptly went over to the wall socket, unplugged the mainframe, plugged in her vaccuum cleaner and started vaccuuming the floor.

    • Remarkably, this is the same urban legend story that happened in various hospitals worldwide where several patients mysteriously died nightly in the same wing of the hospital... until it was found that a janitor was coming around and unplugging the life support systems to plug in the floor buffer...

      Wouldn't a mainframe require a different power socket for a vaccuum cleaner? Or is this one UBER-vaccuum?
    • by dracken ( 453199 ) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @01:39PM (#6912234) Homepage
      The is a legendary story attributed to Guy Lewis Steele - the inventor of scheme.

      Magic Switch Story

      Some years ago, I was snooping around in the cabinets that housed the MIT AI Lab's PDP-10, and noticed a little switch glued to the frame of one cabinet. It was obviously a homebrew job, added by one of the lab's hardware hackers (no-one knows who).

      You don't touch an unknown switch on a computer without knowing what it does, because you might crash the computer. The switch was labelled in a most unhelpful way. It had two positions, and scrawled in pencil on the metal switch body were the words "magic" and "more magic". The switch was in the "more magic" position.

      I called another hacker over to look at it. He had never seen the switch before either. Closer examination revealed that the switch had only one wire running to it! The other end of the wire did disappear into the maze of wires inside the computer, but it's a basic fact of electricity that a switch can't do anything unless there are two wires connected to it. This switch had a wire connected on one side and no wire on its other side.

      It was clear that this switch was someone's idea of a silly joke. Convinced by our reasoning that the switch was inoperative, we flipped it. The computer instantly crashed.

      Imagine our utter astonishment. We wrote it off as coincidence, but nevertheless restored the switch to the "more magic" position before reviving the computer.

      A year later, I told this story to yet another hacker, David Moon as I recall. He clearly doubted my sanity, or suspected me of a supernatural belief in the power of this switch, or perhaps thought I was fooling him with a bogus saga. To prove it to him, I showed him the very switch, still glued to the cabinet frame with only one wire connected to it, still in the "more magic" position. We scrutinized the switch and its lone connection, and found that the other end of the wire, though connected to the computer wiring, was connected to a ground pin. That clearly made the switch doubly useless: not only was it electrically nonoperative, but it was connected to a place that couldn't affect anything anyway. So we flipped the switch.

      The computer promptly crashed.

      This time we ran for Richard Greenblatt, a long-time MIT hacker, who was close at hand. He had never noticed the switch before, either. He inspected it, concluded it was useless, got some diagonal cutters and diked it out. We then revived the computer and it has run fine ever since.

      We still don't know how the switch crashed the machine. There is a theory that some circuit near the ground pin was marginal, and flipping the switch changed the electrical capacitance enough to upset the circuit as millionth-of-a-second pulses went through it. But we'll never know for sure; all we can really say is that the switch was magic.

      I still have that switch in my basement. Maybe I'm silly, but I usually keep it set on "more magic".

  • Morris worm holes? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by molo ( 94384 ) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @01:06PM (#6911847) Journal
    Perhaps the most influential bugs of all time were those that allowed the Morris worm to propogate. Sendmail, fingerd, rsh/rexec.. all to blame. The worm led to the formation of CERT. Quite influential.

  • by DoctorHibbert ( 610548 ) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @01:09PM (#6911874)
    Seen on the license plate of a VW Beetle: FEATURE
  • by CeladonBlue ( 187054 ) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @01:10PM (#6911882)
    While working on an embedded printer driver board, I had just burned new firmware and installed it, tested it, and, because we had had an incident where the internals of another printer had melted together, left it off and unplugged. Five minutes later one of the applications programmers came storming into my office claiming that my new firmware was crap. I calmly walked back out to the lab, looked over the machine, and commented "it works better if you plug it in..."
  • Antz (Score:3, Funny)

    by RedWolves2 ( 84305 ) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @01:10PM (#6911891) Homepage Journal
  • by Esion Modnar ( 632431 ) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @01:13PM (#6911923)
    they didn't find a rabbit in there. Then we'd all be referring to "derabbiting" or "derabbitizing" the program.
  • by delcielo ( 217760 )
    I first heard of this right here on Slashdot. Wish I could remember who posted it that time so that I could give them proper attribution. Oh well.

    http://jargon.watson-net.com/section.asp?f=a-sto ry -about-magic.html
  • In the late 80s or early 90s there was a software company that ran a promotion that they would give you a VW bug if you found a bug in their product. I can't remember what company or software package this was but I thought that was a bold statement about the quality of their software. Too bad very few companies could get away with that now.
  • by the eric conspiracy ( 20178 ) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @01:15PM (#6911958)
    The term bug when referring to a flaw in a mechanism does NOT originate in the coputer machinery of 1945. In fact, it is much older, and is traceable to as far back as Tom Edison:

    On November 18, 1878, Edison wrote to Theodore Puskas, "It has been just so in all my inventions. The first step is an intuition--and comes with a burst, then difficulties arise. This thing gives out and then that--"Bugs"--as such little faults and difficulties are called--show themselves and mo nths of anxious watching, study and labor are requisite before commercial success--or failure--is certainly reached" (Matthew Josephson, Edison: A Biography, John Wiley & Sons, 1992, page 198).

  • by Tumbleweed ( 3706 ) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @01:18PM (#6911991)
    Okay, back in the day(tm), I worked in technical support at Spry, makers of Internet in a Box(tm). One of my duties was to write up bug reports for the internal support system for the tech support reps.

    Turns out we had a bug in Spry Mosaic that, when it hit an empty IMG tag (as in, nothing else in the tag but the letters IMG), it would instantly crash. When I wrote up the document, I forgot to escape the less-than and greater-than marks, so it put the actual tag in the tech support document.

    The upshot - when the tech support reps searched the database for 'crash in browser', one of the hits that would come up was the document I made - when they loaded it to see the details on 'crash in browser', that's exactly what they got. Ooops.

    I can laugh about it now.

    Actually, I laughed about it then, too. :)
  • the bugs are everywhere! if i just got off the computer, i could debug the place, damn, can't do it.
  • 1947, not 1945 (Score:3, Informative)

    by kst ( 168867 ) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @01:20PM (#6912012)
    The log entry with the moth is from September 9, 1947, not 1945.
  • Edison (Score:5, Informative)

    by falsification ( 644190 ) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @01:20PM (#6912015) Journal
    Sorry, but "bug" is older.

    From the OED:

    b A defect or fault in a machine, plan, or the like. orig. U.S.

    1889 Pall Mall Gaz. 11 Mar. 1/1 Mr. Edison, I was informed, had been up the two previous nights discovering `a bug' in his phonograph-an expression for solving a difficulty, and implying that some imaginary insect has secreted itself inside and is causing all the trouble.
  • by digitalhermit ( 113459 ) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @01:21PM (#6912029) Homepage
    When I worked as a technicion for UPS I was often called upon to visit customers at their businesses or homes. I visited this guy near Pt. Charlotte, FL (and that's another horror story in itself) who had a PC damaged during shipping. I should have known before I entered his house that it would be BAD -- there were shopping carts, old engines, tree branches all around his property. When I finally navigated through his living room into his (horrors) bedroom where the PC sat, I was already getting nauseous.

    "What's wrong with it?" I asked, since there didn't seem to be any damage.

    "It won't turn on," said he.

    OK, no problem. As a technician we were allowed to pop open the PC to check if it was simply a cable or card that came loose during shipping. No problem. I pulled out my screwdriver and started undoing the case. Soon as popped the top a bunch of massive roaches scampered out.... followed by dozens of little miniature ones. Now, I HATE ROACHES. I can play with grasshoppers, earthworms, beetles, and other critters but roaches just give me the willies. The guy just looked at them marching around as if they were some little pets. With supreme effort I put everything back together and turned on the PC. It booted! The only sickenging thing was this flick-flick noise coming from the fan. I think there's a roach still lodged in the fan to this day, its little antennae wiggling, its nasty little legs twitching back and forth. flick-flick-flick...

    (true story)
  • Why do people perpetuate this myth? Sure it's a nice story, and sure, it might even be true. But the word 'bug' as in 'error in a program', wasn't coined until much later at the MIT media labs (think maybe Negroponte himself were involved).

  • HAL 9000 "Bug"? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Bilbo ( 7015 ) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @01:24PM (#6912068) Homepage
    I know about HAL in the story "2001", but I don't remember anything that could be called a "bug". HAL was operating according to the instructions of its original programmers, instructions which the actual astronauts had no knowledge of. This led to HAL killing off several of the crew, but other than that, I don't remember it actually malfunctioning. It was programmed to proceed to it's target at all costs, and that's what it did.

    What am I missing?

    (The linked articles didn't give any hints either.)

  • Best (worst) bug (Score:3, Interesting)

    by tedgyz ( 515156 ) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @01:27PM (#6912098) Homepage
    I used to work on debuggers. The hardest bugs to find were bugs in the debugger. Why? You have to debug the debugger.

    The absolute hardest bug I ever tracked down was actually a kernel bug. When single-stepping in assembly over a branch-shadow instruction, the application state was corrupted. It only happened on one particular model of RISC chip and only with a certain version of the kernel. Bleh!
  • by Mr_Silver ( 213637 ) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @01:35PM (#6912188)
    I used to work on developing telemetry systems for a very large water provider. Every morning at 10am, the server would dial a number to upload/download a small amount of data.

    However, it suddenly stopped working and it had turned out that during an upgrade the number had been changed slightly. The leading 9 (to dial for an outside line) had been removed. Therefore rather than hitting an outside line, it would dial 0 (getting the receptionist) and then try to negotiate with her before hanging up. Three minutes later, it would try again and again - until it had retried and failed 10 times.

    The poor receptionist hadn't reported it to anyone and it was only after about a week did they find the problem. She'd put up with 10 calls a day for 5 days without saying a word. She thought it was some prank caller.

  • by druske ( 550305 ) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @01:37PM (#6912209)
    Couldn't resist the "favorite computer bug" temptation...

    In college, around 1982, a friend had a micro by a company called Ohio Scientific, a Challenger something-or-other (I think that's right). The machine was running a BASIC interpreter, and had a character set that supported some simple games. Among the special characters supported were "tanks" in various orientations, so one could write a simple tank hunting game. Which he did.

    We noticed when we started playing that we could move the tank offscreen and back, since he hadn't put any bounds checking to constrain the tank movement. When we toured too far offscreen, however, the program crashed.

    We typed LIST to have a look at where bounds checking might be added to the code, and we found the runaway tank. Leaving a swath of blank spaces behind it, there was the tank character embedded in a line of BASIC source code...
  • by Qbertino ( 265505 ) <moiraNO@SPAMmodparlor.com> on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @01:40PM (#6912242)
    The actuall real bug was taped into the book because it was an actual *real* bug. The Pun was intended back then aswell. The term debugging had been used earlier when debugging ENIAC (real bugs too) and finding unusual and nerving errors.
  • by Bombcar ( 16057 ) <racbmob@bomb[ ].com ['car' in gap]> on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @01:46PM (#6912309) Homepage Journal

    b. A defect or fault in a machine, plan, or the like. orig. U.S.

    1889 Pall Mall Gaz. 11 Mar 1/1 Mr. Edison, I was informed, had been up the two previous nights discovering 'a bug' in his phonograph-an expression for solving a difficulty, and implying that some imaginary insect has secreted itself inside and is causing all the trouble.

    Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd Edition

    Quoted from Chapter 5 of The Practice of Programming, by Brian W. Kernighan and Rob Pike.

  • by f97tosc ( 578893 ) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @02:15PM (#6912658)
    I heard this story first (or possibly second) hand in Sweden; specifically Goteborg.

    So, this is for admissions for dental school, about 5 years ago. Some bug causes the students with the _lowest_ test scores to be admitted.

    The error is discovered but then the admission decisions have already been sent out. The school finds it inhumane to retract the offers those who have been admitted in error. However, they also find it unfair for the most qualified students: it is decided to admit both groups.
    The funniest part is that rumor has it that there was no significant difference in performance between the two groups.

  • by trb ( 8509 ) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @02:37PM (#6912890)
    A favorite bug story, this one involved Apollo workstations [umich.edu], which were interesting and innovative machines, and a strong competitor to Sun in the 1980's.

    Apollos were well networked, and it was possible to manipulate the parameters of the windowing system on one machine from another machine (like you can with X Window system, given sufficient permissions).

    The Apollos had a command to change the mouse speed (similar to the X "xset m" command). It took a numeric value specifying the pointer distance to travel per unit time. The bug was that if you specified a negative value, the mouse pointer would travel backwards. No big surprise really, and not very interesting.

    When this bug was discovered but not yet fixed or widely known, someone decided to play a practical joke, and walked into a fellow hacker's office and sat at his workstation and started playing with his mouse. A few seconds later (with the help of a hidden assistant in another office), the hacker says, hey look, there's something wrong with your mouse, it's all backwards. Sure enough, the mouse is acting all upside-down. The prankster then says, hey, I know what's wrong, have you cleaned your mouse lately? You must have put your mouse ball in upside down. He then pops the mouse ball out and pops it back into the mouse, and sure enough (with hidden assistance), the mouse works normally again. The victim of the practical joke was, of course, entirely puzzled.

  • Favorite story (Score:5, Interesting)

    by El ( 94934 ) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @02:46PM (#6913000)
    It school in the late '70s, they purchased a second PDP 11-34, and the sys admins thought "wouldn't it be cool if we could get the two machines to communicate!" So they connected a serial port on one to a serial port on the other. Tried to send a packet... Boom! Both machines immediately crashed. Rebooted, reconnected the serial port, started a send, crashed again. Finally, it dawned on them... they hadn't disabled terminal echo. When the first character was sent, it was immediately echoed by the second machine, then echoed by the first, etc. Comm interrupts were high priority and a lot of overhead on the PDP, so the machines never left the interrupt handler, and essentially were hung.
  • by jmorse ( 90107 ) <joe_w_morse@nospYAHO o a m . c om> on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @03:08PM (#6913250) Homepage Journal

    Tracking #: 121144608
    Title: Bush robot constantly makes grammatic mistakes and makes up words.

    Problem Detail:
    Corporate puppet robot model George W. Bush (serial #44625441) exhibits erratic grammatical behavior when deviating from scripted speeches. Often uses words like "subliminable", "methodological", "mispronunciated", "stregic", and "permanency" in place of their English equivalents. Platinum users (Haliburton, Exxon/Mobil, Chevron, Bechtel, Kenneth Lay) have noticed other erratic grammatical behavior, including such phrases as "is our children learning", "we need to make the pie higher", and "will the highways on the internet become more few". Strongly suspect some Jim Beam spilled into the model's grammar logic circuits during an all-night instructional binge session with Barbara and Jenna. Suggest immediate implementation of gaffe-filtering algorithm on all corporate media modules to limit the damage from this bug.

    Problem Resolution:
    Media filters in place as of 12 SEP 2001. Language errors are no longer being reported in the corporate media. Suggest further workaround of detaining at Guantanamo Bay register all non-corporate media modules that are incompatible with gaffe-filtering algorithm.

  • My bug story (Score:3, Interesting)

    by seniorcoder ( 586717 ) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @03:50PM (#6913754)
    Well, I thought I was the only one with a real bug story, but this posting proves I wasn't the first. Nonetheless ......

    I have been developing code for 30 years now.
    Early on in my career, in the era of large decks of punch cards, I dropped a deck of cards on the floor.
    I picked them up and put them back in the right order (an ugly job).
    When the job was submitted and the print-out eventually returned (1 day turnaround), the compile failed. I was surprised as the deck was basically unchanged from a previous run.
    I checked the output and discovered a syntax error. I then checked the card deck and discovered an insect that had gotten squished into a hole punched in a card, which changed the resultant character and caused the syntax error.

    Nowadays, my bugs are all my very own.

    Back to unit testing ...

  • by Punk Walrus ( 582794 ) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @04:57PM (#6914509) Journal
    Years ago, I used to work for call centers, and worked with their hardware. This particular center was going through a move to a bigger place just down the road. The had a GeoTel (now Cisco) gateway which was running on hardware GeoTel officially told us "no longer supported." It was a 486/DX66 running NT 3.5.1 on 16mb RAM, and was very old, even for 1998. But the company was cheap, and refused to buy us a new system for it until the move was over, even though GeoTel's minimum at the time was a dual 266MMX with 64mb RAM. It shut down a lot, and on bootup the event logs were full of SCSI errors. And when it shut down, the whole call center went into "default load balancing" which screwed up the tech queues because the default was made when the call center had half as many employees as it did now. So we waited and waited months for the move to finish. There were tons of delays. Same old routine, every few days it would lock up, we'd reboot, and repeat. One day, the Gateway shut down for good, and the tech on site said it was giving off an acrid odor.

    Upon opening the box, we found a mouse had been living in the box, died in the box, mumified in the box, and finally his old nest caught fire (well, maybe not on fire, but blacked it). We're not sure how long the mouse had been in there, but it was long enough to gently bake him to perfect mumification. The theory was that with all the moving going on, the mouse had gotten in through a propped open door, through an open accessory panel in the back, and made a nice nest in the warm computer. How he actually died, we're not sure. Maybe he killed himself from the misery of NT 3.5.1 because *I* sure entertained the idea.

    Then there was the time we found out that the entire DNS for our networks in France was on an LCD 486 laptop, originally used to test the DNS setup, but then it never got updated at production, and had been running for about 2 years before it failed (we found it sitting on a desk in an abandoned office, the original employee long since moved on).

  • Flaming Opti 895 (Score:3, Insightful)

    by goldmeer ( 65554 ) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @10:27PM (#6917231)
    My favorite computer bug was the opti 895 chipset.

    You see, the opti 895 was a chipset for a i486 processor based motherboard. The 486 processor's ZIF socket (The mdern kind with a lever, before that you had to press the procesor into a socket and hope that you aren't breaking the traces on the motherboard) had an extra row of pins to accomidate the Pentium OverDrive Processor. This processor actually put a P5 core in a motherboard designd for a i486 processor. The nifty thing was ha it worked at all.

    Getting to the bug: The outer row of pins on the socket for the 486 were only power and ground for the extra power consumption for the PODP. The specs were clear which ones were Vcc and which were Vss. Well, the opti 895 had 2 of the pins backwards. This was never found in testing. Many many boards were sold from various Tiwanese manufacturers. The boards ran fin until you purchased and installed a PODP into yhe board and powered up. The chipset would short, get HOTHOTHOT, start glowing, and burst into flame within minutes.

    This was bought to out (I was working for Intel as OverDrive Processor support at the time) about a week after product launch. Can you imagine how that call went?

    Caller: Uhhh... I installed tha part into my computer and it burst into flames...

    Tech: Yes, the speed improvement is quite impressive.

    C: No, you dont understand. My computer actually caught on fire.

    T: (silence)

    C: Hello?

    T: Am I to understand that you have a fire in your computer?

    C: Yeah, the smoke is getting pretty bad.

    T: You mean to tell me that it is STILL ON FIRE?

    C: Well yeah, the manual says to call you with the system in the current condition.

    The motherboard was sent in (we replaced the system with a new name brand machine) and the chip was redisned so that one of the pins was removed. (Pin A4, IIRC)

    I have NO idea how many motherboards we ended up replacing , but I know it was a bunch, even though it wasn't Intel's fault that opti couldn't read a pinout diagram.

  • by Mostly a lurker ( 634878 ) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @11:45PM (#6917917)
    Equipment: 360/65 mainframe running OSMVT/ASP.
    Problem description: At approximately the same time in the morning, on average about once a week, a job (different job each time) would fail with an I/O error on a specific 7-track tape drive.

    It took over a year to track down the cause of this problem, which was very costly: the jobs were often time critical and mainframe computer time was costly anyway. We had top hardware CEs and systems programmers looking at this from every conceivable angle. Just about every component in the tape drive was changed.

    The mystery was eventually solved by an observant computer operator. The tape drives were on the second floor of a building with a road passing just outside. At that hour in the morning, if the sun was shining, it was possible for the sun to reflect off the windscreen off passing cars and flash briefly on the read head of the tape drive. The tape drive interpreted this as invalid data.

  • Fortran Compiler Bug (Score:3, Interesting)

    by aaaurgh ( 455697 ) on Wednesday September 10, 2003 @12:20AM (#6918185)
    [FourYorkshiremenSketchMode]Eee, ah rememba when ah were a nippa...[/FourYorkshiremenSketchMode]

    During the industrial year of my degree (mumble) years ago, my first task was to modify a Fortran 77 engineering program which calculated intersection points between two pipes, so the correct cuts could be made and the pipes joined. We're talking big pipes here - the company built the Syney Harbour Bridge and the Hong Kong Shanghai Bank building in Hong Kong.

    Lacking the modern tools we all love, debugging tended to be done by printing values at pertinent points. When the code was correct, I removed them all... and it broke; I put them back in and it worked; commented them out and it still worked; deleted the comments... and it broke again! These were basic, fundamental print statements, no fancy function calls with side effects. I eventually ended up with two 100+ page listings of the object code (working and non-working) side by side on the floor and had to compare the lot by hand until I found the difference, near the bottom of course!

    It turned out to be a bug in the PDP Fortran compiler. It was incorrectly generating two identical labels in the same code block, but for whatever reason they were together in the working version and had a register being reset to zero between them in the broken version - the JMP was going to the second and therefore not resetting the register.

    As an undergraduate at the time, I was in despair... my first 'real' job and I couldn't fix a simple program - little did I know what the final cause would be - nearly put me off software development for life! Bloody DEC and their shonky compiler, they didn't even give the company a free upgrade when the fix came out!

Our business in life is not to succeed but to continue to fail in high spirits. -- Robert Louis Stevenson