Saturday, August 11, 2012

Computer Bug or Beast?

Harvard Mark II Computer Bug
BEASTS and CREATURES Living In the Computer!!!

With a small twist of historical events, the jargon today could be computer beast, creature, reptile or animal instead of computer bug!!!

Olivetti P602
TODAY computer bugs are usually thought as a software programming failure. That's because it's not easy for actual bugs to penetrate a printed circuit board and short out coated traces. Now flash to the past where machines had open mechanics and electromechanics.

The Computer - Harbinger of beasts, reptiles, bugs, animals

In the 1970s and 1980s, many electro mechanical computers were still in operation across the America and being phased out. Such was the case with the Olivetti A4 and A5 computing machines and the Olivetti P602 Computers. It was not uncommon for a reptile, bug or animal to crawl into the machine and cause operational failure.

Even the components of the BRD computer and Diablo terminal had open spaces for anything that wished to crawl in. My experiences in technical support on mainframe, mini and portable computers and computing devices uncovered numerous failures do to actual bugs and sometime animals or reptiles being caught and wedged inside the machine.

Dead rat inside computer
It was not uncommon to find some creature living in a Printronix printer array and such machines needed to be approached with caution. Victor 9000 business machines had top open carriages - an invite to creatures looking for an interesting home. In the winter, these machine power supplies acted like small heating furnaces, keeping creatures warm. Some computing installations were located in rural fields where poisonous Rattle snakes found their way into warm machines for nesting. It was not uncommon to find a mouse, rat, miller, centipede, beetle or worm caught inside an mechanical decoder linkage or encoder cog. So if history had changed just a little, we might say computer animal, reptile or beast instead of computer bug!

Olivetti A4
But let's time travel farther back in time to September 1947 when Rear Admiral Grace Hopper noted "bugs" after a dead moth was found shorting a relay in the Harvard Mark II computer (The photo shows the first known computer bug, a moth found trapped on a relay of the Harvard Mark II computer.) The First "Computer Bug" was a 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 1947. The operators affixed the moth to the computer log, with the entry: "First actual case of bug being found". The term "debugging" already existed; thus, finding an actual bug was an amusing occurrence. In 1988, the log, with the moth still taped by the entry, was in the Naval Surface Warfare Center Computer Museum at Dahlgren, Virginia.

It was nice they affixed the moth to the computer report. I had no intention of affixing a dead filthy rat or poisonous deadly fanged rattle snake to my computer report!

Well, if there was an animal called the "paper clip" it would be the most common cause of machine failure at that time and there was no problem attaching one of these "beasts" to the computer report...
Olivetti A5

Wikimedia Commons, Wikipedia 

BRD Computers