MySci Round-Up, September 9: The First Computer Bug

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On this day in 1947, computer pioneer Grace Hopper, then a young U.S. Navy lieutenant with a Ph.D in mathematics, coined the term 
“computer bug” to describe a problem that she found while testing Harvard University’s Mark II Aiken Relay Calculator, an early computer that included high-speed electromagnetic relays rather than mechanical counters used in the Mark I, its predecessor. She meant it in the literal as well as figurative sense. While testing the machine, she found a moth trapped between the circuitry at relay #7, panel F. Hopper and the other researchers affixed the moth to their laboratory log, with the entry: “First actual case of bug being found.”

The term “bug” to describe a flaw in technology was not new; inventor Thomas Edison is said to have used it back in the 1870s. But Hopper’s discovery may have been the first use of the term in a computer context. Even though what Hopper had fixed was technically a hardware problem, the researchers described the insect removal as “debugging a computer program,” by the early 1950s, the term had caught on among programmers.

Today, programmers use software tools called “debuggers” to monitor the execution of a program, stop it, re-start it, set breakpoints, change values in memory, and make other alterations.

Hopper herself would go on to become a key figure in the development of computing.She led the design of the first commercial large-scale electronic computer, UNIVAC I, and was one of the inventors of COBOL, a seminal programming language used in military and business computers, in the late 1950s. (Among other features, COBOL made it possible for computers to respond to words, rather than numbers.) She also rose to the rank of Rear Admiral in the Navy, and was the first to voice the now-famous paradigm: “It’s easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission.” And without further ado, here are the science and technology stories of the day.

Apple officially warns iOS developers that it has 250,000 apps already, descries simulated flatulence. To quote the guidelines: “We don’t need any more Fart apps. If your app doesn’t do something useful or provide some form of lasting entertainment, it may not be accepted.”

Key part of human brain traced back to ancient worm.
The ancestor of the ragworm possessed a primitive cortex 600 million years ago. And you thought you were so-o-o smart.

Laws of physics may vary in different parts of the universe. 
This might explain why the French think Jerry Lewis is so brilliant. Just kidding! And in fairness, they’ve always been fond of Mickey Rourke, too. 

New chemicals shown to reduce Alzheimer’s-related amyloid plaques in mouse brains. Obviously, this could be gigantic, if it works in humans too.

Indonesian toad turns tables on invasive yellow crazy ants. Hey, if you don’t want to compete with them, just eat them.

Brain takes in 2D images, reassembles them in 3D to remember them. This enables us to recognize Aunt Ida, from a side view, even after she’s changed her hairstyle.