Tag Archives: computer

99 little bugs in the code

“99 little bugs in the code, 

99 little bugs… 

Take one down, 

patch it around, 127 bugs in the code!”

Genre: joke/song

Source: 20 year old USC student majoring in computer science

Context: The student doesn’t remember exactly when she learned this tune, but says it is the coders’ take on the classic “99 bottles of beer” song. 

Analysis: In this adapted version, the number of bugs increases many instead of going down by one classically. The student explains this is the focus of the joke, because the patching of an error frequently leads to the creation of more “bugs” in the code. Where the traditional version of this song is normally heard during monotonous tasks, or when killing excess time. In this 21st century rendition, the song achieves the same purposes, as fixing code is often a seemingly endless and time intensive process. 

“Ping” as Computer Science lingo

Main Piece

Interviewer: What does ping mean?

Informant: To check nn on someone, or following up with someone. If I were waiting for someone to send me a new version of their code, I would say “I am going to ping them” which basically means the same thing as “I am going to follow up with them.” 

Interviewer:Where did you learn it?

Informant:I learned it from the coding community, very much so. 

Interviewer: Do you use it frequently?

Informant: Uhhh…yeah actually I just used it in an email. I guess I use it so frequently I forgot that I use it in the first place if that makes any sense, haha.


The informant is a good friend and housemate of mine, and is a junior at USC studying Computer Science and Computer Engineering. He is originally from Manhattan Beach, CA and has been coding ever since highschool. He has had several internships with different computer science companies such as Microsoft and is very involved with different coding clubs on campus. 


One day while we were at home my informant used the word “ping” in front of me and I had no idea what he meant. During the interview I asked for more context on this word and when it would be used and where he learned it from. 


I think that much of the folk speech used between computer scientists is heavily dependent on the different technology that they use. Always focusing on efficiency and collaboration with larger coding projects, students and computer scientists alike use words and folk speech in order to communicate with more ease and to form a sense of community within the coding community.


In programming, a bug is unintentional/unwanted behavior of a program or algorithm.

The story goes that back when computers were being developed in the 1940’s, computers occupied huge, refrigerated rooms. One day while one of these computers was running, it began to behave sporadically. Perplexed, the engineers began going through all of the hardware to see if they could find a problem. They searched for hours until eventually, they found a bug had been stuck in one of the cable jacks. After removing the bug the computer behaved normally. Ever since, these sporadic errors have been called bugs, and the process of removing them has been called debugging.


Its interesting to note that this process has transferred from its supposed origins as a piece of hardware terminology and is now used primarily for problems with software. My informant also told me that there is some controversy over the origin of this story, however despite this he still strongly believes that this is the true version of the tale. He does not recall where he first heard this story, but I have also been told this exact narrative by my father when I first started studying computer science.

Occupational FOAF Stories

When the informant worked in a tech support job at the University of Southern California, she heard the two following occupational FOAF stories about ridiculous problems customers had called in to friends of her fellow workers:

The most common story the informant heard was that of the worker who complains, “I broke my cup holder,” not knowing that the so-called “cup holder” is in fact the CD drive on his CPU. The other oft-retold IT question she heard was, “Where’s the ‘any’ key.” This question relates to a common program prompt: “When a program says, ‘Press any key to continue, uh, some individuals—they may not have a full grasp of the English language or of a computer—are looking for an actual key on the keyboard that says, ‘Any key,’ as opposed to just pressing any key on the keyboard.”

The informant considered these two stories to be pure invention until she later encountered them herself as an IT manager: “At first I thought that it was, you know, just kind of a joking thing—ha, that’s funny, who, who would ever actually ask that?—but I did encounter it twice . . . somebody put a cup in the CD drive and the CD drive is not built to hold cups with liquid in it. And it broke.” She recalls her response to the first time she got the “cup holder” question: “I tried to be very—I’m sure I was—maybe chuckled a little bit? But I try to be very professional in my response, saying that’s not a cup holder and that the person had broken their computer and would need to get it repaired.” As for the “any key” question, she now calls it “something that is commonly encountered . . . I’m not kidding.”

Like her former co-workers, the informant now brings out these stories to share with other tech support workers: “I would tell it—I’m sure I would do it in a way if we were doing, uh, pretty much like battle stories from a war . . . but from the front lines of tech support.”

Since the computer problems in these stories actually happen, it is likely that the stories themselves have a polygenetic source—multiple users who have probably never seen anyone else use the CD drive as a cup holder do so of their own accord. Folklore about the personal computer, of course, has a terminus post quem of its invention; tech support for personal computers is a relatively new concept and thus the occupational folklore associated with its practitioners must of necessity also be rather new. However, these two stories do seem to be widespread, appearing in user manuals, technical textbooks, and even fiction books, as a passage from a short story by Carson W. Bryan demonstrates (71).

Source: Bryan, Carson W. Let’s Find Out. New York: Xulon Press, 2010.