09 September, 2012

09 September 1945

438th AAA AW BN
APO 513 % Postmaster, N.Y.
9 September, 1945

My dearest sweetheart –

It’s Sunday morning and I shouldn’t be busy, but I am. The boys just love to drift in with all sorts of complaints and at all hours. If we were in the States and the boys were getting their weekends off for going home – there wouldn’t be one man on sick-call. But that’s the Army and you just can’t change it.

Yesterday a.m. I went to Services and enjoyed it very much. In the p.m. we did absolutely nothing – and that includes evening, too. There wasn’t even a decent movie to visit and somehow or other we couldn’t manage to whip up a Bridge game. In all – it was a very very dull Saturday evening. Today is dark and murky. If it clears up – I may be able to play some tennis. If not – I don’t know what I’ll do. It really doesn’t matter, either, darling. Like everyone else – I’m just marking time and wondering when my time will come. There’s a new scheme, a new plan, a new recommendation by a Congressman – every time you turn on the radio. If they’d all shut up and just let the Army alone – we’d get home in better time. I wish I could give you a definite date, sweetheart, but we or I just haven’t got any. They say all will be out of here by the first of the year except the 400,000 occupation troops and 300,000 service troops. I can’t for the life of me see how I’ll be a part of those 700,000 soldiers and so I should be among those out of here by the first of the year. So let’s put January as the deadline – and anything short of that – just plain gravy, dear. I’d love nothing better than to be able to write you that letter which tells you to stop writing – I’m on my way. I’ll get as much a kick out of it as you, I’m sure.

I got two letters from you yesterday and a letter from Sgt. Freeman. [See post for 01 September 1945.] He’s still in the hospital in Penn. – and I can’t help but admire his spirit. Not once has he bitched or complained – and yet I know pretty well how he must feel.

One of your letters was rather old – 22 August. You mentioned Sylvia B. – and Phil and the problem of the proper up-bringing of Sylvia. I’m not sure I understand the entire problem – but Florence used to allude to Sylvia in a very trying tone – occasionally. I gather that it isn’t a perfect set-up – and I’m sorry, because this is an important and impressionable age.

Your other letter was written in Rutland, Vt. and I enjoyed that a lot. You were certainly in good spirits – despite car trouble – and I do hope that was the last of it you had. The big kick I got was because I knew the Hotel you were referring to. I never stayed there – but I waited for a fellow one day in the lobby. I was in Rutland and all thru the Green and Berkshire Mountains one summer a long way back. It was before I started interning and a friend of mine – he was doing research in Biology at Mass. State – and I took a couple of weeks and toured New England and part of New York (Saratoga Springs.) It’s lovely country – but then, you know.

But aside from all that – I love you darling and I’m just filling in words and time – until I can hold you in my arms and tell you how much a part of me you’ve become. It’s unbelievable almost – considering how much of my life I’ve lived alone – more or less independent of others. And now I’m always thinking in terms of the two of us – and frankly, I like that so very much better. Just let me get back – that’s all I ask.

And for now, I’ll have to close, sweetheart. I hope all is well with you at home. Love to the folks and Grammy B.

And all my deepest love to you –


about Grace Murray Hopper and the First Computer Bug

Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper

Grace Murray Hopper was born in New York City on 9 December 1906. She graduated with a BA in Mathematics from Vassar College in 1928, followed by an MA in Math and Physics from Yale University in 1930 and a PhD in Math from Yale in 1934. From Citizendium comes this:
Grace was a pioneering computer scientist and a Rear Admiral in the United States Navy. In the technical area, she is best known for the development of COBOL and other programming languages. While working for UNIVAC, she is credited with leading the development of the first English-like programming language, FLOW-MATIC. It was not the first programming language, but the first not using essentially mathematical notation, such as ALGOL or FORTRAN. IBM had put the FORTRAN scientific language in the public domain, and it became a de facto standard. Business programming, however, was quite another matter. FLOW-MATIC was UNIVAC-proprietary; IBM had its own approach that became snarled in legal matters, and there was a third competitor from the U.S. Air Force. The COBOL project began with the intention of creating an open standard.

Perhaps her best-known contribution to computing was the invention of the compiler, the intermediate program that translates English language instructions into the language of the target computer. She did this, she said, because she was lazy and hoped that “the programmer may return to being a mathematician.” Her work embodied or foreshadowed enormous numbers of developments that are now the bones of digital computing: subroutines, formula translation, relative addressing, the linking loader, code optimization, and even symbolic manipulation of the kind embodied in Mathematica and Maple.

Personally, she was admired as a leader, and mentor of creative thinking from high school to the Navy high command. She surrounded herself with reminders about thinking unconventionally. On her office wall was a clock that ran counterclockwise. In the Navy, she was known as "Grand Lady of Software," "Amazing Grace" and "Grandma Cobol". When computer speeds broke into the microsecond range, she commanded her staff to "bring her a microsecond." Puzzled, she eventually explained she wanted to see one, and sent them off to cut pieces of wire that were the length that light traveled in one microsecond; she gave these out at her presentations. She climaxed that part of the presentation by having a strong member of her staff stumble onto the stage, carrying a large, heavy reel of wire: the distance light traveled in a millisecond.

Grace began working on computers by chance, at the Bureau of Ordnance Computation Project at Harvard. One of the crucial spurs to growth in computers came from the attempt to understand the flight path of artillery shells. The mathematics of such computations is complex, requiring the services of a machine called the Harvard Mark I, which some have called the first fully functional digital computing device. The Mark I contained not just 500 miles of electrical wire, but a whopping 750,000 parts, all of which Grace Hopper used to crank out ballistic tables for the Navy's weaponry. Leaving active duty after the war's end, Dr. Hopper was a member of the Harvard University faculty and, from 1949, was employed in private industry.

On 9 September 1945 Grace carefully documented the first "Official Bug" while working on the Harvard Mark II relay-based computer. This is what was written:
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".
In 1988, the log, with the moth still taped by the entry, was placed in the Naval Surface Warfare Center Computer Museum at Dahlgren, Virginia.

First Computer "Bug"

It's an oft-repeated tale, but according to TechWorld, "it's got more bugs in it than Relay 70 probably ever had." This is what was published in a September 2011 blog entry:
For one thing, Harvard's Mark II came online in summer of 1947, two years after the date attributed to this story. For another thing, you don't use a line like "First actual case of bug being found" if the term bug isn't already in common use. The comment doesn't make sense in that context, except as an example of engineer humour. And although Grace Hopper often talked about the moth in the relay, she did not make the discovery or the log entry.

The core facts of the story are true - including the date of 9 September and time of 15:45 hours - but that's not how this meaning of the word bug appeared in the dictionary. Inventors and engineers had been talking about bugs for more than a century before the moth in the relay incident. Even Thomas Edison used the word. Here's an extract of a letter he wrote in 1878 to Theodore Puskas, as cited in The Yale Book of Quotations (2006):
'Bugs' - as such little faults and difficulties are called - show themselves and months of intense watching, study and labour are requisite before commercial success or failure is certainly reached.
Word nerds trace the word bug to an old term for a monster - it's a word that has survived in obscure terms like bugaboo and bugbear and in a mangled form in the word boogeyman. Like gremlins in machinery, system bugs are malicious. Anyone who spends time trying to get all the faults out of a system knows how it feels: after a few hours of debugging, any problems that remain are hellspawn, mocking attempts to get rid of them with a devilish glee.

And that's the real origin of the term "bug." But we think the tale of the moth in the relay is worth retelling anyway.

As for TechWorld's opinion, they seem to have missed two the points.

First, it was said in Grace's story that Harvard's Mark II was being tested in 1945. That it did not come "online" until 1947 may be very likely and does not, as TechWorld suggests, make the tale a tall one.

Second, TechWorld contends that "bug" was a term used long before Grace used it. So what? Chances are Grace and her staff had used it before with relation to other faults and difficulties. And although one of her operators affixed the moth to the page claiming it was the first computer "bug" to be found, she may have been the one to first say that "debugging" had been accomplished. No doubt, the humor in the double entendre missed neither her nor her staff. "Engineer humor" indeed!

Grace Hopper remained active in industry and education until her death on 1 January 1992. A Burke-class destroyer of the U.S. Navy, USS Hopper (DDG-70) is named in her honor. This was the first ship since World War II, and only the second in Naval history, to be named for a woman from the Navy’s own ranks.

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