My chance at a moment of fame

I discovered a few years ago that I had authored an Internet meme when I came across a post to a mailing list with a sig tag line that quoted me by name! I came across the quote again yesterday and was a little disappointed to discover that it is now attributed, if at all, to “Anonymous”, “author unknown”, or “anonymous support person”. In fact, Google now finds only one search hit that still has the sig line that credits me by name, and that one is in a less common variant of the phrase.

In an attempt to gain credit for my authorship for some sort of posterity, I’m posting this with links to references on the Internet archive site that I hope will be a bit less ephemeral than the other references have proven to be. Otherwise, it would be just my word against thousands of places on the Internet that clearly state that the author was Anonymous or Unknown.

Who knows, maybe the next person to repeat the quote will find this blog post and give me credit 🙂

Here it is in the most common variants. I did actually say it both ways:

“The software isn’t finished until the last user is dead”
— Sidney Markowitz

“The last bug is not fixed until the last user is dead”
— Sidney Markowitz

And now some history and links to show that I really did say it.

When I was working at Gold Hill Computers, which despite the name made software, not computers, we partnered with a company named A.I. Architects, co-founded by Richard Soley, who did make computers, or rather an add-in board containing an Intel 386 CPU and memory chips that could be plugged into a peripheral slot of the then more common Intel 286 based PCs to turn them into monster machines running at tens of MHz with multiple of megabytes of RAM.[1]

It was at that time that I expressed the experience of all programmers that there is always one more bug, and if you have users there is always one more feature request or spec change or something that absolutely has to be done next. Which form the saying took depended on whether I was focused more on trying to get some software finished and out the door, or if I was tempted to think “Just this one last bug to fix and then it’s done.”

Richard Soley, who has much more than fifteen minutes of fame and an anonymous meme to his name, was later interviewed by Wired where he used the bug form of the quote, attributing it to “a friend”.

The software form of the saying proved to be much more popular than the bug form. I certainly found it much easier to roll off the tongue. A Google search for “the last user is dead” finds both forms, but adding my name to the search as of today as I type this only gets one hit that remains, a sig line in a post to a mailing list. Both the Wired article and that post are archived on the Internet Archive Wayback Machine here and here in case either of those links goes 404.

[update] The quote has caught on even more widely than I had thought. Slashdot used yet another slight variation as one of the quotes they select at random on the bottom of their pages. Try a search for the following, here posted with my name instead of Anonymous. Google lists 68,000 hits for the phrase!

“The program isn’t debugged until the last user is dead”
— Sidney Markowitz


[1]Stone, J. 1987. The AAAI-86 conference exhibits: new directions for commercial AI. AI Mag. 8, 1 (Mar. 1987), 49-54.[PDF]

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