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A Bug a Month? It's Harder Than You Think

DDJ: Joining us is today is, at least to my mind, the legendary Jim Gimpel, founder of Gimpel Software and author of the long-running Bug of the Month ad in programming magazines like Dr. Dobb's Journal, to name just one.

Jim, your "Bug of the Month" feature in magazine advertisements have been amazingly popular over the years. When and how did this get started?

JG: I honestly forget who suggested the idea but it didn't take much convincing as it seemed to be a great way to communicate what our product does in a somewhat provocative way.

I'm easily bored by the usual advertisements and the drone-like repetitiveness was something of a pet peeve. It's a lot easier to say when it got started. Our first Bug of the Month ad, Bug #571, appeared in March 1991. We found that programmers were drawn to puzzles and in the days before we began posting them on our web site, we could tell how good an ad was by how many phone calls it generated.

DDJ: Is it hard writing a bug a month?

JG: Yes and no. Initially it was quite easy but after you've used up all the low hanging fruit it gets a bit tougher to find the rest and keep it within our strict guidelines (23 lines, not too wide, not caught by compilers, etc.). I want as much as possible to create a small example that people can type in, compile, and run and observe the disfunctional behavior directly. This demonstrates that we're talking about real bugs and not some trite deviation from some super exacting standard.

DDJ: What's been your biggest surprise in regards to the "Bug of the Month" when hearing from readers?

JG: Well, there was that "37l" bug. That's not the bug number; it's actually a "37" with a lowercase "el" as a suffix. But it looked an awful lot like the three-digit number "371" especially in the font we used. You can imagine the fun you can have creating a bug of the month around this little idiosyncrasy. We were soon flooded with calls which made me realize how much the ads were read.

DDJ: Where can readers go to take a look at the "Bug of the Month"?

JG: You'll find a new bug each month as a display ad in DDJ and also on our web site at www.gimpel.com , which carries them all the way back to the year 1998. We recently added an on-line demo. Now you can run FlexeLint on the bug code, make changes and relint to your heart's content at www.gimpel-online.com/bugsLinkPage.html . To run FlexeLint on your own code sample, go to www.gimpel-online.com/OnlineTesting.html.

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