Wednesday, December 9, 2009
[1906 - Grace Murray Hopper, computer pioneer,
COBOL developer, Admiral, born in New York City]
Grace Murray Hopper received her PhD in Mathematics from Yale University in 1934, and was a member of the Vassar faculty from 1931 until 1943, when she left to serve in the Navy to work on development of the original electronic computers. Released from active duty in 1946, she joined the Harvard Faculty Computation Laboratory where she continued her work on the Mark II and Mark III computers for the Navy. It seems the Navy could not do without this woman, and she was eventually recalled to active duty.
William encountered then Captain Hopper when she taught a class in the software engineering course at the Naval Research Laboratory. She loved to tell the story of how she had traced an error in the Harvard Mark II computer to a moth trapped in a relay, thus coining the term computer bug, and giving rise to the famous term of "debugging" a computer program.
It seemed as if this story must surely have been apocryphal; but no. This bug was carefully removed, preserved, and taped to the log book that now resides in the Smithsonian
Somewhere among his treasures William has a piece of wire about 11 inches long that Captain Hopper handed to him explaining that it represented a nanosecond, since it was the distance in length that electricity could travel in wire in one billionth of a second. Rear Admiral Hopper was the oldest serving active duty officer when she retired from the Naval Service in 1986. She is generally credited with developing the first compilers to allow programmers to write code in human language that was then translated into computer instructions that could be understood and executed by machines. She was also instrumental in the development and standardization of the COBOL programming language, which more than anything else allowed the computer technology that had been developed for military and scientific use to be ported into the business world. In short, this woman (small in stature) was a giant in what was at the time a mostly male culture.
The Navy named an Aegis Guided Missile Destroyer after Grace Hopper.
William's Whimsical Words:
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Last updated on December 9, 2009