John Banzhaf's First Law Article
Cited in Computer Study About Hackers
A recent study featured at Programmers,
and elsewhere of why words like "foo" are used by hackers and
others so frequently in computer programming traced the
original use of the word to the US Army WWII acronym FUBAR, “F-ed Up Beyond All
That usage is similar to the more widely known word SNAFU, "Situation Normal All F-cked
Up." See also TARFU,
"Things Are Really F-cked Up."
Then, the study credited the hacker culture at MIT with
popularizing the word widely within the tech community where
it was picked up by hackers and other programmers.
Interestingly, the article noted that hacking was popular at
MIT as early as the 1950s, long before there were personal
computers, and at a time when virtually all computers occupied
huge air-conditioned rooms at banks, major universities, and
very large businesses.
HACKING BEFORE THERE WERE PERSONAL
Yes, Virginia, students at
MIT were hacking even in the 1950s, long before modern
solid-state computers, PCs, the Internet, etc.
At that time MIT students hacked into the world-wide telephone
and data transmission systems used by various branches of the
Defense Department into which they obtained unauthorized
access from phones in labs at MIT doing research and providing
support for those military facilities.
Indeed, it was not uncommon for a tech savvy student at MIT to
phone his girl friend at Wellesley by way of a very
very long distance but free call routed through Alaska,
Germany, Saudi Arabia, and then the Panama Canal. SEE,
e.g., A Sad
Tale Involving MIT's Phone System
BANZHAF'S FIRST KNOWN LAW ARTICLE
In any event, one of those whom the report cited for helping
to spread the word about "foo" as in "fubar" is John Banzhaf,
then an MIT student, in his first law article. As the
report puts it:
"A year before the TMRC dictionary, 1958‘s MIT
VooDoo Gazette ('Humor supplement of the MIT Deans’ office')
(PDF) mentions Foocom, in 'The Laws of Murphy and Finagle' by
John Banzhaf (an electrical engineering student)."
MIT student Banzhaf wrote in 1958: "Further research under a
joint Foocom and Anarcom grant expanded the law [Murphy's Law]
to be all embracing and universally applicable: If anything
can go wrong, it will!" SEE: Banzhaf, The
Laws of Murphy and Finagle, Voodoo, 1958
Today, Banzhaf is better known as a public interest law
professor who takes legal action regarding smoking and a large
number of other problems.
But, true to his MIT and computer heritage, he's also known
for obtaining the first copyrights on computer programs,
helping to persuade Congress to amend the U.S. copyright law
to take into account data processing, developing a
computerized method for determining voting power in complex
voting situations [the "Banzhaf Index"], and for writing one
of the first major articles about the law related to