Wednesday, September 15, 2010

'Debugging Day' Infamous Software Bugs

September 9 was Debugging Day. It's been associated with removing bugs for more than 50 years now but is rarely formally celebrated. So let's start the tradition this year.
some bugs have wreaked disaster, embarrassment and destruction on the world. Some have literally killed people.

It all began with a log entry from 1947 by Harvard University's Mark II technical team. The now-classic entry features a moth taped to the page, time-stamped 15:45, with the caption "Relay #70 Panel F (moth) in relay" and the proud boast, "First actual case of bug being found." (Click on the image for a close-up view of the historic logbook.)

End-of-the-World Bugs

Remember how the world descended into nuclear oblivion on September 23, 1983? No? Well, thank your lucky stars -- this is a tale of bugs so major they could have brought the entire world to a standstill.
Illustration: Lou BeachIt was all averted by the common sense of one individual, who ignored the Soviet early-warning system's faulty reports of incoming missiles and didn't launch a counterattack on the United States.
The warning system set off klaxons at half past midnight on that September morning. Apparently, the U.S. had launched five nuclear missiles toward what the U.S. president had taken to calling "the Evil Empire."
At the time, Lt. Col. Stanislaus Petrov reasoned his way to a decision not to respond: The USSR was in a shouting match with the U.S. about a Soviet attack on Korean Air Lines Flight 007 three weeks earlier, but it was only a rhetorical battle at that stage. Besides, if the U.S. wanted to attack the Soviet Union, would it really launch only five missiles?
Petrov ordered his men to stand down, and 15 minutes later, radar outposts confirmed that there were no incoming missiles. The decision took less than five minutes, it was confirmed within half an hour, and the world remained at peace.
When the early-warning system was later analyzed, it was found to have more bugs than a suburban compost heap -- which meant that although Stanislaus Petrov had saved the world, he'd made a serious error of judgment: He had shown up the incompetence of Soviet programmers.
This was not good for morale, or for the lieutenant colonel. He was cold-shouldered into an early retirement and was largely unsung until May 21, 2004, when a San Francisco-based organization called the Association of World Citizens bestowed its highest honor -- world citizenship -- and a financial reward on him.


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