Category Archives: Nerdy

Role Model Sunday: Margaret Hamilton

This entry has been published on February 14, 2016. Please bear in mind I have changed my views on some things since then. -- Dieser Eintrag wurde am February 14, 2016 veröffentlicht. Bitte denk beim Lesen daran, dass ich meine Ansichten zu einigen Dingen seither geändert habe.

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

This entry has been published on March 23, 2014. Please bear in mind I have changed my views on some things since then. -- Dieser Eintrag wurde am March 23, 2014 veröffentlicht. Bitte denk beim Lesen daran, dass ich meine Ansichten zu einigen Dingen seither geändert habe.
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

This entry has been published on March 2, 2014. Please bear in mind I have changed my views on some things since then. -- Dieser Eintrag wurde am March 2, 2014 veröffentlicht. Bitte denk beim Lesen daran, dass ich meine Ansichten zu einigen Dingen seither geändert habe.
Jepsen-Mary-Lou-headshot
Mary Lou Jepsen, picture (c) magazine.org

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

This entry has been published on February 23, 2014. Please bear in mind I have changed my views on some things since then. -- Dieser Eintrag wurde am February 23, 2014 veröffentlicht. Bitte denk beim Lesen daran, dass ich meine Ansichten zu einigen Dingen seither geändert habe.
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.

Museum recap: Technical Museum

This entry has been published on June 21, 2012. Please bear in mind I have changed my views on some things since then. -- Dieser Eintrag wurde am June 21, 2012 veröffentlicht. Bitte denk beim Lesen daran, dass ich meine Ansichten zu einigen Dingen seither geändert habe.

To accomplish one of the many exercises IT students have to complete for a positive grade in “Gesellschaftliche Spannungsfelder der Informatik” (roughly “Areas of conflict in between Society and IT”), we had to pay a visit to the Technical Museum in Vienna. We, that’s me and a couple of friends from University, and we had a great time at the Museum on April 20th.

Enjoy the pictures of some grown-up nerds, childishly exploring and enjoying the museum!

Museum recap: Museum of Natural History

This entry has been published on May 31, 2012. Please bear in mind I have changed my views on some things since then. -- Dieser Eintrag wurde am May 31, 2012 veröffentlicht. Bitte denk beim Lesen daran, dass ich meine Ansichten zu einigen Dingen seither geändert habe.

On May 12th, Georg and I decided to pay a visit to the Museum of Natural History in Vienna.

It is situated close to the city center of vienna, just 2 minutes from Heldenplatz, and right opposite the Museum of Fine Arts. The special thing about these two musems is that they look the same from the outside, except for some details as statues on the facade and the dedication over the main doors.

The entry fee for students is € 5, so if you don’t plan on going to the NHM (German short for the museum that I will use now) at least 6 times within a year’s time, and you’re a student with a valid student’s ID, it’s better for you to just stick to the normal day passes. Awesome, in my point of view!

The NHM was built in order to host the “k. u. k. Naturalienkabinett”, the huge collections the Habsburg emperors had accumulated through years and decades of exploring our world.

Because of the Habsburg’s acquisitiveness and the hard work of the museum curators, in the last 250 years, over 25 million objects (!) have found their way to the museum. Of course, only a fractional amount of this collections can be shown in the museum itself – and still, some rooms seem to be crowded with exhibits 🙂

Also, the exhibits are not the only thing to be amazed by. Just like the Museum of Fine Arts on the other side of the square, NHM is a masterpiece by itself. Take time to take in the frescoes, the stucco works, the busts and so on. You won’t regret it 🙂

I didn’t take too many pictures, but let me assure you: the 5 to 10 Euros you will spend on the ticket, depending on if you’re a student or not, are totally worth it. Just make sure to be well rested, wear comfy shoes and have something to drink with you. The geological collections alone can keep you staring for hours.

Would that I had known …

This entry has been published on March 30, 2012. Please bear in mind I have changed my views on some things since then. -- Dieser Eintrag wurde am March 30, 2012 veröffentlicht. Bitte denk beim Lesen daran, dass ich meine Ansichten zu einigen Dingen seither geändert habe.

… that there is this awesome online course by Stanford University, called “Programming Methodology”. Had I known some months ago, I might be way further in my progress on Programming at Uni.

If you’re interested in learning how to programm in Java, go and see the lecture videos. You’ll find the links to them and also to all handouts on the course’s website.

Me wants!

This entry has been published on March 26, 2012. Please bear in mind I have changed my views on some things since then. -- Dieser Eintrag wurde am March 26, 2012 veröffentlicht. Bitte denk beim Lesen daran, dass ich meine Ansichten zu einigen Dingen seither geändert habe.

I want one like that for my flat door, saying:

“You might enter iff you bring something we will like.”

By the way, since I have started studying IT, I indeed understand more and more of the XCD comics. But also without special knowledge, one can understand. If you don’t, there’s still wikipedia.