Posted by Michael Betts.
Engineer on team #177, Bobcat Robotics, from South Windsor High School and International Fuel Cells.
Posted on 3/4/2000 10:44 AM MST
Just last Wednesday evening, I was recounting the story of how a computer ‘bug’ got it’s name to some of the student members of my Bobcat Robotics team.
This morning, I was browsing the picture gallery of robots here on the Delphi site. Imagine my surprise when I saw that Team 95, Lebanon Robotics, has named their robot ‘GraceHopper’.
Admiral Grace Hopper is, without a doubt, one of the greatest historical figures in computer science. Born in 1906, she received her BA from Vassar in 1928 and her PhD from Yale in 1934.
Her first work was with the Navy’s MARK I during WW2. The Mark I is regarded as the first large scale digital computer. It was 51 feet long, 8 feet high, 8 feet deep and could perform an amazing 3 addition operations a second. By comparison, a Pentium I running at 150 MHz can perform 300 million additions per second!
She was called the ‘World’s Third Programmer on the World’s First Computer.’
In 1945, while performing maintenance on the MARK I, she discovered that a moth had become trapped between two relay contacts. She dutifully pasted the moth in her notebook and recorded that this bug was the cause of recent problems in the computer. This moniker has stuck with us and engineers still ‘debug’ hardware and software on a routine basis.
She went on to work on the ENIAC, an 80 ton behemoth which was the first computer capable of performing a conditional branch instruction.
From there, she worked on the UNIVAC, great-grandfather to the mainframe computers which were dominate the field for the next 40 years.
In 1951, she proposed the idea of ‘reusable software’ (segments which could be extracted and re-assembled according to a higher level language). Ms Hopper wrote the first compiler (called B-O and later the FLOW-MATIC) in 1952, much to the chagrin of her (mostly male) peers who charged that ‘computers could do only arithmetic’.
In 1955, she was the main driving force behind the creation of the COBOL programming language.
From 1981, when Admiral Hyman Rickover (father of the nuclear Navy) retired, until her ‘last’ retirement in 1986 (‘I seem to do a lot of retiring.’) Admiral Grace Hopper was the nation’s oldest active duty officer.
Some 11+ years before her death (in 1992), I had the privilege of attending a lecture by Dr. Hopper. When seated, each attendee had 300 meters of thin wire coiled on the desk in front of him or her. She started the lecture by asking us all to pick up that coil of wire and *‘hold up your microseconds. This is what you waste when you write an unnecessary or inefficient line of code. Once that microsecond is gone, you cannot get it back.’ I think she may have been talking about more than software here…
I use one of my favorite Grace Hopper quotes on my FIRST students every year: ‘Every program has at least on bug, or it is trivial.’ To which I add that ‘Trivial code is good… Let’s keep it simple.’
Kudos to Team 95 for the honor they do her by naming their robot GraceHopper. I’m sure that Amazing Grace would be proud.