[DWJ] Units of distance and speed

Belben, Philip (Energy Wholesale) Philip.Belben at eon-uk.com
Fri Dec 8 10:00:53 EST 2006

It seems I'm still in Geek mode.  Otter quoted me thus:

> > Finally, a very useful figure in some fields: the speed of light is
> > just under 1 foot per nanosecond.
> Ooooh!  I knew _that_.  I have a piece of wire about 11.4 inches long,
> which is the distance light goes in a nanosecond.

Are you sure?  It should be 11.8 inches :-)

> My mother went
> to Vassar, as did Grace Hopper.  Grace Hopper was a very important
> figure in the development of computer programming.  [She wrote
> COBOL, for one thing, and is supposed to have dealt with the
> eponymous 'bug', a moth.]  Anyway, some time ago, in the 70s
> IIRC, Vassar was doing a summer program for alumni and so on,
> and offered a workshop on computers given by Grace Hopper.

Mega-wow!  I was, alas, only at Cambridge, so had to make do with
Maurice Wilkes (one of the engineers responsible for the design of

I'd like to (attempt to) refute one common myth, though: the moth.  It
was not the original "bug", although it is often cited as such.  Hopper
herself is partly to blame: on finding the moth, she wrote in the repair
log, "The first case of an actual bug being found."  Hence the story,
but hence also pretty conclusive evidence that the word "bug" was
already in use.  It is apparently cognate with "bogey", and the same
"bug" that appears in the phrase "bug-bear", i.e. something that bugs
> Lots and lots of people attended, but only some of them were
> actually registered.  The people [or couples] who were registered
> were each given a piece of wire.  Hopper had spent some time
> with a graduate student trying to come up with something that
> would indicate how brief a time a nanosecond is, and they had
> come up with this idea.
> I have that nanosecond.  It's a treasured posession.

Definitely.  Don't you dare lose it!

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