Category Archives: Nerdy

Podcast Episode Logbuch: Netzpolitik

Ich arbeite gerade an einer Liste von Radiosendungen, an denen ich mitgewirkt habe – aber das hier verdient definitv einen eigenen Post!

Nach meinen Vortrag über Bias in Algorithmen (“Wenn Algorithmen irren lernen”, [PDF]), wurde ich zum Thema AMS-Algorithmus auch noch in die Live-Aufnahme von Logbuch: Netzpolitik eingeladen.

Die Episode ist jetzt online; ich hoffe, ihr habt Spaß damit: [LNP273 Die Verfassungskatze].

New Page: Talks

During the last year, I have been accepted as a speaker at a couple of events. Fortunately, many of them made video-recordings, so even if you were not able to attend the events, you can still see the presentations and hear me speak – at the moment, many are only available in German, but I hope to get some captions done soon(TM).

Here is the list:

I will update it whenever something new comes up.

Write-Up: Bias in Algorithmic Systems

So, here comes the final write-up I handed in this summer for the Critical Algorithm Studies course. The course is really cool, and if you have the chance to do so, I absolutely encourage you to enroll. Last semester, we looked at algorithmic systems, and how they (re)produce bias, from various viewpoints (it’s possible that the approach changes for next year).

Continue reading Write-Up: Bias in Algorithmic Systems

Seminararbeit: Repräsentation von Gender in Science Fiction

The following text is a term paper I wrote in the spring term of 2015. The class I wrote it for is called “Rätsel, Erkenntnis, Wissen: Kulturelle Macht der Wissenschaften” (roughly translated: “Puzzle, Insight, Knowledge: Cultural Power of Sciences”). It is taught by Amelie Cserer every spring term at TU Wien as a soft skills/transferrable skills course. The description sounded very interesting to me, and the first session just made me more intrigued. You may notice that the teacher used the plural form of Wissenschaft (science) – she told us in the first session that this was kind of a statement to show that there is no such thing as “die Wissenschaft” (“the (one and only) science”), although people tend to use the word that way.
Continue reading Seminararbeit: Repräsentation von Gender in Science Fiction

Role Model Sunday: Elena Cornaro Piscopia

Portrait of Elena Piscopia. Source: Wikipedia Elena Lucrezia Cornaro Piscopia, (5 June 1646 – 26 July 1684) was an Italian philosopher of noble descent, who was the first woman to receive an academic degree from a university. I discovered this excellent woman’s story while researching Laura Bassi.

Elena was considered to be an expert musician. In addition to mastering the sciblis of her time-which means she mastered almost the entire body of knowledge-Elena mastered the harpsichord, the clavichord, the harp, and the violin. Her skills were shown by the music that she composed in her lifetime.

She was a member of various academies and was esteemed throughout Europe for her attainments and virtues. According to Margaret Alic, she became a mathematics lecturer at the University of Padua in 1678. The last years of her life were devoted to study and charity. She died at Padua in 1684 of tuberculosis, was buried in the church of Santa Giustina at Padua, and her statue was placed in the university.

By the advice of a friend of the family’s, she began the study of Latin and Greek and became proficient in these languages at the age of seven. She also mastered Hebrew, Spanish, French and Arabic, earning the title of “Oraculum Septilingue”. Her later studies included mathematics, philosophy, and theology. She was invited to be a part of many scholarly societies when her fame spread and in 1670 became president of the Venetian society Accademia dei Pacifici.

When the bishop of Padua learned that she was pursing a degree in theology, he refused on the grounds that she was a woman. However, he did allow for her to get a degree in philosophy. The degree was conferred on 25 June 1678, in Padua Cathedral in the presence of the University authorities, the professors of all the faculties, the students, and most of the Venetian Senators, together with many invited guests from the Universities of Bologna, Perugia, Rome, and Naples. The Lady Elena spoke for an hour in classical Latin, explaining difficult passages selected at random from the works of Aristotle. She was listened to with great attention, and when she had finished, she received plaudits as Professor Rinaldini proceeded to award her the insignia of the laurea, the book of philosophy, placing the wreath of laurel on her head, the ring on her finger, and over her shoulders the ermine mozetta. This scene is illustrated in the Cornaro Window in the West Wing of the Thompson Memorial Library at Vassar College.

Her death was marked by memorial services in Venice, Padua, Siena, and Rome. Her writings, published at Parma in 1688, include academic discourses, translations, and devotional treatises. In 1685 the University of Padua caused a medal to be struck in her honour. In 1895 Abbess Mathilda Pynsent of the English Benedictine Nuns in Rome had Elena’s tomb opened, the remains placed in a new casket, and a suitable tablet inscribed to her memory.

Role Model Sunday: Margaret Hamilton

Portrait of Margaret Hamilton, 1995This woman’s story could be found in my (and probably your) facebook stream for a couple of months, on and off. The picture I’m posting here is way more recent than the famous one used in all the postings telling us about her greatest achievement, so you probably didn’t recognize here. The famous picture is that of a young woman, wearing big glasses and a striped dress, proudly smiling into the camera, standing next to a huge pile of documents.

Meet Margaret Hamilton, the woman who sent the Apollo mission to the moon (and back again).

Margaret Hamilton had a B.A. in mathematics from Earlham College, and after teaching highschool mathematics for some time, she and her husband moved to Boston. The plan was for him to finish his graduate studies, while Margaret would be working to sustain them both, in order to finish a graduate programme in mathematics when he was done with his.

Hamilton popularized the term “software engineering” (coinedby Anthony Oettinger), and was one of those who developed important software concepts. Some of these are priority scheduling, end-to-end testing, and human-in-the-loop decision capability, such as priority displays.

As a working mother in the 1960s, Hamilton was unusual. She would bring her daughter Lauren to the lab on weekends and evenings. While the 4-year-old slept on the floor of the office, her mother programmed away. She loved the novelty of her job (“like the Wild West” is a term she used in an interview), and also liked the camaraderie. There were after-work drinks at the MIT faculty club, geek jokes and the like. At the lab, she said, she was “one of the guys.”

In 1965, Hamilton became responsible for the onboard flight software on the Apollo computers. Sometimes the pressure kept Hamilton up at night. Once, after a party, she rushed back to the lab to correct some code she’d suddenly realized was flawed. “I was always imagining headlines in the newspapers, and they would point back to how it happened, and it would point back to me.” (WIRED)

One day, when Hamilton’s daughter Lauren was playing with the MIT command module simulator’s display-and-keyboard unit. As she toyed with the keyboard, an error message popped up. Lauren had crashed the Apollo simulator by somehow launching a prelaunch program called P01 while the simulator was in midflight. There was no reason an astronaut would ever do this, but nonetheless, Hamilton wanted to add code to prevent the crash. That idea was overruled by NASA.  They told Hamilton and her team over and over that astronauts were trained to be perfect, so they would never make that mistake. She wanted to add error-checking code to the Apollo system that would prevent this from messing up the systems. But that seemed excessive to her higher-ups. “Everyone said, ‘That would never happen,’” Hamilton remembers.

But it did happen. Five days into the historic Apollo 8 flight which brought astronauts to the moon for the first-ever manned orbit, the astronaut Jim Lovell inadvertently selected P01 during flight. This wiped out all the navigation data Lovell had been collecting. Without that data, the computer wouldn’t be able to calculate and execute the route back. But Hamilton and her team developed a plan based on her program note regarding the problem, and thanks to that —and Lauren—the Apollo astronauts came home.

Sources for this article:

Role Model Sunday: Anita Borg

Anita Borg (picture from wikipedia article)
Anita Borg

This week’s role model was brought to my attention by Fachschaft Informatik, a group of students representing the Comuputer Sciences students at my university, helping with problems concerning curricula, courses, and so on. One of the rooms provided and used by FSInf is the Anita Borg room.

Anita Borg was a self-taught programmer, focusing on operating systems and memory systems. Upon realizing at a symposium in 1987 that there were incredibly few women in computing, she became an advocate for technical women. She founded a mailing list called Systers, which brought together women in technology. In 1994, together with Telle Whitney, Borg founded the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, a conference by and for women in computer sciences. In 1997, Borg founded the Institute for Women in Technology, aiming to increase the representation of women in technical fields and to enable the creation of more technology by women. Anita Borg’s personal goal was to achieve a 50% representation for women in computing by 2020.

While reading up on her life, the second most interesting fact for me was that the mailing list she oversaw, while primarily focusing on communication of experts on technical things, tackled non-technical issues from time to time. For example, when in 1992 a Barbie doll hit the market that said “math class is tough”, the protest that started with the Systers list played a role in getting that phrase removed from Barbie’s microchip. This very much reminded me of a Simpsons episode, Lisa vs. Malibu Stacy. The most interesting fact was that Anita Borg obviously was a very active, motivated fighter for women in technology. This is a trait I very much like in people – talking about things might be interesting, but to actually change the state of something, things must get done.

After Anita Borg died of cancer in 2003, the Institute for Women in Technology was renamed to the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology by Telle Whitney, who took over as CEO and President in 2002. Lots of awards and scholarships are named in her honor, and while still alive, Anita Borg received Awards by the EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) and the Association for Women in Computing as well as an Honorary Doctor of Science and Technology degree by Carnegie Mellon University.

For more information, go read up at wikipedia (where I also found her picture).

Role Model Sunday: Mary Lou Jepsen

Mary Lou Jepsen, picture (c)

Mary Lou Jepsen is the co-founder of One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) and an expert in the field of displays. Her work has had worldwide influence on head-mounted displays, HDTV and projector products. She created some of the largest ambient displays ever, and received a Master of Science degree in Holography at MIT Media Lab, where she was also part of the faculty for some years.

At OLPC, Jepsen developed the sunlight-readable display technology and co-invented the ultra-low power management system for the laptop. She also transformed these inventions into high volume mass production. The XO laptop is the lowest-power laptop ever made, and the most environmentally friendly laptop ever made and can sustain 5 foot drops.

In 2008, after working at OLPC for 3 years, Jepsen started a for-profit company, Pixel Qi, to commercialize some of the technologies she developed at OLPC. In 2013, she joined Google[x] as their “Head of the Display Division”.

You can find out more about Mary Lou Jepsen on wikipedia and her website.

Also I promise that the next article will be based on a personal interview. Stay tuned!

Role Model Sunday: Frances E. Allen

Frances Allen, (cc wikimedia)
Frances Allen, (cc wikimedia)

As the first woman to ever receive a Turing Award for her work, Frances Elizabeth Allen is for sure a woman to be seen as a role model. She received the so called “nobel prize of computing” for

[…] pioneering contributions to the theory and practice of optimizing compiler techniques that laid the foundation for modern optimizing compilers and automatic parallel execution.
(Association For Computing Machinery (ACM), Citation for the A.M. Turing Award 2006)

After earning B.Sc. and M.Sc degrees in Mathematics, she started to teach at a school in Peru, New York (yep, there’s a city named like a country). She joined IBM in 1957, planning on paying off her school loans with that job – but she stayed with IBM for the rest of her career.

Let’s hear some more about her from the ACM:

[…] she introduced many abstractions, algorithms, and implementations that laid the groundwork for automatic program optimization technology, […] introduced the use of graph-theoretic structures to […] efficiently derive relationships and identify opportunities for optimization. […] Her 1976 paper with Cocke describes one of the two main analysis strategies used in optimizing compilers today.
(Association For Computing Machinery (ACM), Citation for the A.M. Turing Award 2006)

And that’s still not all of it. In 1989, Fran Allen was the first woman to become an IBM Fellow. Every year, the current CEO of IBM appoints 4 to 9 researchers at IBM an “IBM Fellow”, which is the highest honor a scientiest, engineer or programmer at IBM can receive. The Fellow Programme was created in 1962, in order to promote creativity among the company’s most exceptional technical professionals, only choosing people who will also be making important contributions in future.

Upon retiring in 2002, Fran Allen received the Ada Lovelace Award of the Association for Women in Computing. After also being awarded the Turing Award by the ACM (see citations above) in 2007 (for 2006), she was awarded an honorary doctor in science degree at SUNY University, Albany. In 2009, she received an honorary doctor of science degree at McGill University for her work.

For more information on Fran Allen, here’s her wikipedia entry, which was where I found most of my information for this short portrait. Sorry if some sentences sound very alike, but rephrasing is a bit hard sometimes 😉

Also, if you want to hear Fran Allen speak about her work herself, you can find her Turing Lecture Video here.