Otis the Debugging Dog

Hello everyone, I’m alive! I’ve just been really busy, in part with a very work-heavy machine-level programming course. I dropped by the professor’s office hours yesterday. His cramped office was in the annex of the computer science building, with a whiteboard on one wall, a shelf full of very technical books occupying another, and a window out into the gray rain taking up a third. A desk piled with papers and a peculiar keyboard separated us, and made the space even tighter. For his part, the professor was was wearing a New England Patriots jersey. After some discussion about bit shifts, I asked him what may seem to be a peculiar question: “What is Otis the debugging dog?”

“You’re the first person to ever ask me that,” he said. “It was in all the handouts at the beginning of the year,” I said, somewhat apologetically. Indeed, they specifically said to ask him about Otis the debugging dog during office hours. “It was in all the handouts in previous years and no one ever asked.” I shrugged.

He told me a story, which I do not remember verbatim, about someone adopting a dog from a fraternity at Cornell that could no longer care for him. The dog had a “very calm temperament,” and the dog’s owner would often bring him (or her?) to the computer lab. Eventually the students got into the habit of talking to the dog about their bugs. This was apparently a very effective technique, and despite his lack of response to the student’s tales he was christened Otis the Debugging Dog.

What a great idea! I thought. How many times have I explained something I didn’t get to a teacher or TA or friend, only to discover my error without their assistance? Too many. By talking to a dog, one wouldn’t have to waste another human’s precious time.

Talk to your dogs. Listen to yourself.

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