The original meaning of “the computer system has bugs”

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Term “the computer system has bugs” The ‘bugs’ faced by computers through the ages give us a completely different and interesting perspintricacies of the digital jungle created by man.

Sytem bugs

In 1955, there were only 250 computers in use throughout the world. Now, 250 computers barely suffice the needs of a primary school. Of course, the first computers, on account of being so huge, required maintenance. And since their processing power was quite modest, most errors encountered were instrument-related. They frequently heated up a lot, and had a tendency to attract moths into the system. The moths short-circuited the circuits, often leading to malfunctions and at times, destruction of equipment. This was the original meaning of “the system has bugs“. Getting a computer ‘bug’ now refers back to the time when literal ‘bugs’ were a problem to the early computers!

Of course, nowadays, except for the statistically normal semiconductor based instrument errors, most of the errors or ‘bugs’ are software side. While launching a satellite or maintaining a switching tower, i.e., hardware intensive jobs still face machine errors, most of the world that uses cellphones and PCs never has to encounter a processor “failure“.

Y2K bug

A very unique bug, the Y2K bug. In the year 1998-99, what was only rumours and rmurs on internet chatrooms was slowly spreading to the upper echelons of programmers, the Year 2000 bug. 1999 was the first time a digital machine would be changing over from the year ’99 to ’00, and the world over, it was feared that system-crippling bugs would appear when that transition occurred. WHY is the century change such a big deal for machines? Because for us, 99 means 1999 and 00 means 2000. But for a computer, 1900 is indistinguishable from 2000. The world over, many servers, computers and even satellites would rollover from 31/12/1999 to 01/01/1900. This could create many logical errors. Simply put, a task scheduled to happen 2 seconds after 23:59:59 on that date, would just not take place, and all “old” data would become “data that shouldn’t even exist”. All because humans abbreviated years to two digits while the first digital hardware was programmed, and missed the point that for a computer, 00 doesn’t necessarily mean 2000.

It turns out that wasn’t the only problem with the year 2000. It was programmed that all years that are multiples of 4 are leap years, except for those that are century years. They missed the small detail, that centuries that are multiples of 4 should be leap years; thus the year 2000 was only 365 days long as per digital calendars. The day had to be added, by reprogramming the timekeeping. However, there are certain machines that cannot be reprogrammed, like say, a GPS satellite. They were ordered to repeat the 28th of Feb, so that they don’t lose a day.