[EAS]History of Bugs

pjk pjk at design.eng.yale.edu
Tue Mar 13 15:24:12 EST 2001

Subject:   History of Bugs

Edward Tenner's book is highly recommended to all engineers.  --PJK
(from NewsScan Daily,  13 March 2001)


      Princeton University's Edward Tenner wants us to know that bugs,
those notorious enemies of technology, have been around long before
      "The bug, that perverse and elusive malfunctioning of hardware
and  later of software, was born in the nineteenth century. It was
already  accepted shop slang as early as 1878, when Thomas Edison
described his  style of invention in a letter to a European
representative: 'The first  step is an intuition and it 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 months of intense watching,  study and labor are
requisite before commercial success -- or failure -- is  certainly
      "Edison implies that this use of 'bug' had not begun in his 
laboratory but was already standard jargon. The expression seems to
have  originated as telegrapher's slang. Western Union and other
telegraph  companies, with their associated branch offices, formed
America's first  high-technology system. About the time of Edison's
letter, Western Union  had over twelve thousand stations, and it was
their condition that probably  helped inspire the metaphor. City
offices were filthy, and clerks exchanged  verse about the gymnastics
of insects cavorting in the cloakrooms. When, in  1945, a moth in a
relay crashed the Mark II electromechanical calculator  that the Navy
was running at Harvard -- it can still be seen taped in the  original
logbook -- the bug metaphor had already been around for at least 
seventy-five years."

See http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0679747567/newsscancom/ for
Edward Tenner's "Why Things Bite Back." (We donate all revenue from
our  book recommendations to Literacy Action's adult literacy

More information about the EAS-INFO mailing list