[SIGCIS-Members] Is it a myth that David Letterman had a Top Ten List about the Pentium bug?

Ellen Spertus spertus at mills.edu
Wed Aug 12 10:06:01 PDT 2020

According to the popular computer architecture textbook *Computer
Organization and Design *by Turing Award winners John Hennessy and David

The Pentium floating-point divide bug even made the "Top 10 List" of the *David
> Letterman Late Show* on television.

I have been unable to verify this. The bug was reported in October 1994 and
remained in the news until early 1995. I could find nothing relevant in the
Top Ten List Archive for late 1994
<http://www.mudslide.net/TopTen/lswd1994.html> or early 1995
<http://www.mudslide.net/TopTen/lswd1995.html>. In early January, there was
the Top Ten Signs You Bought a Bad Computer
but it has no mention of Intel or math.

I did find a Master's thesis
that cites Jarrett in saying that "David Letterman included a  Pentium™
joke in his nightly monologue":

Jarrett, Jim. "A Postmortem on the Pentium Processor Crisis." Unpublished
> manuscript prepared for lnteleads, 1994.

I cannot find this document, however, and Jim Jarrett passed away in 2012

There is a satirical Top Ten list

9.9999973251 - Your old PC is too accurate.
> 8.9999163362 - Provides really good alibi when the IRS calls.
> 7.9999414610 - Attracted by Intel's new You don't need to know what's
> inside ad campaign.
> 6.9999831538 - It redefines computing -- and mathematics!
> 5.9999835137 - You've always wondered what it would be like to be a
> plaintiff.
> 4.9999999021 - Current paperweight not big enough.
> 3.9998245917 - Takes concept of floating point to a whole new level.
> 2.9991523619 - You always round off to the nearest hundred anyway.
> 1.9999103517 - Got a great deal from Jet Propulsion Laboratory!
> And the number one reason to buy a Pentium:
> 0.9999999998 - It'll probably work!

The same page <http://www.polylith.com/~jerparks/jokes/Intel.shtml>
includes this joke:

"You know what goes great with those defective Pentium chips?
> Defective Pentium salsa!" (David Letterman)

I conclude that David Letterman joked about the Pentium in a monologue
(although I have only circumstantial evidence) not in a Top Ten List.

This is my first foray into computing history. Please let me know if you
have additional information, if my reasoning is unsound, or if I should do
anything besides notifying the authors and publisher. (I'm acquainted with
David Patterson but would not cold email John Hennessy.)

Ellen Spertus
Professor of Computer Science
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