The Bug In The Machine

Note the bloody bug splotch in the lower right corner. (Over U2's No Line On The Horizon album.)

(Click on photos for the large version.)

I've been a computer programmer for 33 years. Some of my early work is still stored on punched paper tape! And if this computer programmer has a particular skill, it is probably in the area of debugging.

Those who know me know I suffer from a life-long hearing defect and have, thus, grown up being pretty good at figuring stuff out based on scant evidence. This is precisely one of the required skills for debugging, and let me just say that I've gotten very, very good at it over the last 33 years.

But for the first time, I have an actual bug in my machine. An honest-to-god, six-legged thing crawling around in my machine.

Somehow this bug, this six-legged crawling trouble-maker, has found its way into the layers of my laptop's screen. It's crawling around inside my screen where I can't touch it… all I can do is watch it crawl around. Somehow, it has gotten itself between the backlight screen and the LCD panel, so that it's actually behind the text.

And because it is so deep in the machine, pressing the screen has no effect (except making my screen look distorted and weird). So deep and secure is the little fiend, it doesn't seem to even notice it when I do.

The whole thing is really quite extraordinary, especially now that I've realized I'm in the lofty company of none other than Rear Admiral Grace Hopper, the famous Computer Scientist responsible for coining the term "debugging" (based, in her case, on an incident involving a moth).[1]

Here's a closer shot.
((Alas… If only I'd thought to photo the living bug!))

Now, I am generally favorably disposed towards all God's creatures, regardless of how many legs they have (I do confess a strong bias towards the four-legged furry ones that like us humans).

My household policy has always been that, if they basically keep out of sight and don't draw overmuch attention to themselves, they may live out their tiny lives in peace.

And here, again, I confess a bias in that I rather favor my eight-legged guests over my six-legged ones (especially the blood-sucking six-legged ones). I regard their primal, predatory nature; and—as do all hard-core programmers—I have a special fondness for things that come in packages of eight. [2]

My computer bug was clearly of the six-legged kind—some sort of very tiny beetle. One could easily see its itty bitty legs as it scurried around my screen. The effect was utterly mesmerizing, and this made the laptop effectly useless, since all I could do was stare at this odd, foreign "cursor" moving about the screen.

(For a brief period I entertained the idea that this was actually some odd computer virus (the software kind) that expressed itself by making it appear a bug was randomly crawling about my screen, but close examination revealed its organic nature in all its six-legged glory.)

So, determined to rescue my laptop and kill this bug, but perhaps not clearly thinking through the consequences, I pressed hard. Very hard.

U2's No Line On The Horizon.
(There's sort of a line…)

And this did kill the bug.

It is no longer a tiny shape, with itty, bitty legs (seen all too clearly against the bright white backlight screen), crawling around and mesmerizing me.

No, now it's a small bloody splotch, about the size of a pinhead, located in the lower right of my screen.

A smear of former bughood, a permanent stain to remind me that, when you kill a real bug, there is a carcass. They don't just vanish as your typical computer "bugs" do.

At least it's not moving around. (And that does help… no mesmerizing effect… just an "ah, crap" effect.)

Let this be a lesson to you all!

[1] Do read the Wiki article. Hopper was an extraordinary woman. You'll see a photo of the world's first documented (actual) computer "bug". And I've always loved her idea of those foot-long "nanosecond" wires!

[2] The exception to this bias, however, is found in the lowly, despicable tick, a creature with no value I can perceive.