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Writing Gallery: BugNet at the Smithsonian

Howdy Doody, Archie Bunker & BugNet -- Together At Last In The Smithsonian

Originally published in BugNet - April 1998

OK, I ADMIT IT. When I got to Washington D.C. on a whirlwind trip recently, I had a strong urge to visit the Computer Bug Exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution, which as all the world knows contains a copy of BugNet's Windows 95 Bug Collection.

So I hopped a cab from my hotel over to the Museum of American History, and went up to the Information Desk. "Where is the special exhibit on computer bugs?" I asked.

The clerk was taken aback. She was used to being asked how to find the Hope Diamond, Judy Garland's ruby slippers, or Fonzie's jacket. I could sense that this was the first time she had been asked about the computer bug exhibit.

But she consulted her chart, whispered a question to her co-worker, and then told me that there were a number of special exhibit cases in the second floor west corridor, and one of them was the computer bug exhibit.

I hustled up the escalator and when I got to the top I looked around. One of the cases was surrounded by a crowd of people, all snapping pictures. This must be it, I thought. I elbowed my way to the front of the crowd, eager for a look at our book. But it was only Howdy Doody, the original puppet that had been donated by Buffalo Bob.

There were many people at the next special exhibit case, too. Many of them were gesturing with excitement. They must be people who had been burned by all the bugs in Service Pack 2 of Windows NT 4.0, I thought. But no, it was only Archie and Edith's chairs from the set of All in the Family.

Finally, I saw a case all by itself, down near a statue of George Washington dressed for a toga party. It was the bug exhibit, and there in the lower corner of the exhibit case was our Bug Book, The Windows 95 Bug Collection.

bjksmithsonianI pulled a disposable camera out of my pocket and started snapping pictures. Then I decided I needed a picture of myself by the book. After all, I really couldn't count on helping to write something else that would end up on display at the Smithsonian -- this could be my "15 minutes of fame" as the expression goes.

So I waited for an unsuspecting tourist. A woman with a guidebook and a camera around her neck walked by, and I asked if she could take my picture. She was pretty sharp, because she looked at the exhibit, looked at this excited man who wanted his picture taken by the case, and asked, "You have something to do with this exhibit, don't you?"

"I was one of the co-authors of that book," I said, pointing like a proud papa.

She peered down at the book. "Oh, you must be Bruce Brown!"

I considered going into a long explanation about the many Bruces at BugNet, but I was in a hurry to get back to my conference, so what the hell I thought, and just nodded yes.

Snap, snap, she took a couple of pictures, I thanked her and hustled for the exit, which isn't as easy as you'd think in the Smithsonian -- but that's another story...

***

THOUGHTS OF COMPUTERS and the 20th Century are hard to banish. Later that evening, the conference I was attending had a private reception at the National Archives. We were able to nibble wine and cheese in a reception room, and then go into the Great Hall, where the actual Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights are on display.

These aren't copies, like the kind that hung in the hallway of your high school. These were the actual pieces of paper signed by people like Jefferson, Adams, Franklin, Hancock, and Madison. A man standing next to me was mesmerized, looking down at the most important documents in our country's history. "Isn't this something?" he said to me. I stared down, trying to decipher the writing.

"Frankly, I think they should have switched to a more legible font" I said.

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