Happy Ada Day!
October 6, 2011 11:41 PM   Subscribe

Ada Day appreciates and commemorates women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics with events all over the globe. A few links to start the celebration: Ada Lovelace, The Origin. Women@NASA (previously). Ladies Learning Code. Rear Admiral Grace Hopper explaining nanoseconds to David Letterman. AstronomyCast with Dr. Pamela Gay. Hedy Lamarr and other female inventors.
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul (22 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
That Letterman interview is great.

"How did you know so much about computers then?"

"I didn't, it was the first one."

Wish i could have my wits about me like she does at 80.
posted by efalk at 11:57 PM on October 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

Holy shit, that Grace Hopper interview is fucking amazing. She's awesome!

Though a picosecond is a trillionth of a second, not a quadrillionth. Quadrillionth would be femtosecond.
posted by kmz at 12:00 AM on October 7, 2011

My favorite is Lise Meitner, who made many contributions to atomic and nuclear physics, a major contribution to the periodic table, and who, along with her long time research partner Otto Hahn, articulated the theory of nuclear fission, the evolution of which we still use today. (Or rather, it's the atomic model that has evolved, but their concept of fission hasn't really changed.)
posted by Sunburnt at 12:20 AM on October 7, 2011

Oh man. This Grace Hopper interview is priceless. Wow.
posted by effugas at 12:37 AM on October 7, 2011

I think Emmy Noether ought to get a mention here.

Awesome that Hopper's rank used to be known as Commodore.
posted by knave at 1:38 AM on October 7, 2011

I have a poster on my wall from an exhibition at the Stockholm Technical Museum "Inventions by women" (pdf) which is good and bad.

It's good because highlights female inventions, but it's also bad because it highlights stereotypical female inventions - a training bra for example.

But this is the problem with all of these "female inventor" things. Women can be inventors when it comes to "women's" work or a women's body, but not so much otherwise.

Case in point: In the "other female inventors" link Mary Phelps Jacob, Socialite and Inventor of the Bra.

I like the Hedy Lamarr example because it illustrates a complete anti-stereotype: a Hollywood bombshell inventing a new sort of radio apparatus. There needs to be more of this.
posted by three blind mice at 2:10 AM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

My favorite is Lise Meitner, who made many contributions to atomic and nuclear physics, a major contribution to the periodic table, and who, along with her long time research partner Otto Hahn, articulated the theory of nuclear fission, the evolution of which we still use today.

And for which Hahn got a Nobel but not Meitner. Fuck you, Nobel Prize committee of the 1940s. At least there's meitnerium now.
posted by kmz at 2:17 AM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Also relevant, this recent blog post about Lovelace's Leap.
posted by knave at 2:38 AM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Obligatory link to The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage
posted by oneswellfoop at 4:44 AM on October 7, 2011

oh, you already linked that in the main post.

posted by oneswellfoop at 4:45 AM on October 7, 2011

No wonder my daughter, Ada, was so sweet and loving this morning!
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 5:28 AM on October 7, 2011

When I was in grad school at NYU, she gave a talk. She handed out nanoseconds. She told the story of being in Japan and not knowing any Japanese so the only way she could communicate with the other programmers there was by using COBOL verbs.
posted by Obscure Reference at 6:41 AM on October 7, 2011 [6 favorites]

I'ma wear my Ada Lovelace teeshirt today!
posted by padraigin at 6:44 AM on October 7, 2011

Awesome that Hopper's rank used to be known as Commodore.

Ahh, the great lost rank.

(Digression time!)

Originally, Commodore was a post, not a rank. The Royal Navy would send out a small group of rated ships, each commanded by a Captain, often referred to as "Post Captain" when you were calling out the rank Captain, as opposed to the command position known as Captain.

They would need someone to command this group, which was too small for a flag officer to command. So, they'd either do one of two things -- they would post another Captain onto a ship in general command, or they put one of the ships Captain's in command.

In either case, this officer would now be referred to as a Commodore. The former would be a Commodore of the First Class, the latter, Second Class. In both cases, instead of an Admiral's flag, he'd fly a broad swallow-tailed pennant, red if 1st class, white if 2nd. Once the mission was complete, the Commodore would strike his pennant.

Key point: Commodore was a position, not a rank. One wasn't promoted to the rank, one was posted to the position, and it was not permanent. There was no degradation for being a former commodore.

Time passes, and America happens. We don't have a large fleet, so we don't have Admirals, so we also use Commodores. However, we developed the courtesy of calling someone once posted as Commodore that for the rest of their career, leading to the Royal Navy slur of "America: All Commodores, but no ships." When we actually build a fleet large enough to rate Admirals, we stop using the title.

Time passes. WWII happens, and the US Navy grows to unbelievable size -- TF 38 in October of 1944 had 9 CV, 8CVL, 6BB, 4CA, 10CL, 58DD and supporting ships. One would expect a fleet of this size to be commanded by a full Admiral, but this wasn't a fleet, this was a task force in a fleet. There were only three flag ranks, and because Admirals were commanding theatres, we had a Vice Admiral commanding TF38 (Mitscher, later, McCain.) This had Rear Admirals commanding task groups. This left the problem of who commands the divisions and task units?

Answer 1: More Rear Admirals. Answer 2: They brought back the Commodore. Unlike the former incarnation, Commodore became a rank, not a position. A Commodore was above a Captain, but below a Rear Admiral. The Regular Navy didn't like this (one more step before you reached flag rank), so the vast majority of Commodores were USNR officers, who'd go away after the war, not USN officers.

The problem with Commodore was when you were working with other nations. We treated and posted Commodores as our lowest flag ranks. Other nations assumed that a Commodore was merely a senior Captain. So, after WWII, the rank is discontinued, and the few regular navy commodores are promoted to Rear Admiral.

Now, the other services complain. The USA, USAF and USMC have four flag ranks -- General, Lt. General, Major General and Brigadier General.* The USN only has three. This basically means that they're getting a jump in rank (and more importantly, pay grade) from O6 to O8, where the others have the O7 stop. So, the USN divides its RADM into Rear Admiral, Lower Half (RDML, O7) and Rear Admiral, Upper Half (RADM, O8.) The only difference between the two was paycheck, and unlike most positions, what half you were was strictly based on seniority, and the "promotion" happened automatically. Insignia and Uniforms were identical. Everyone keeps griping.

In 1982 they decide to fix this, and thus, we get the Commodore Admiral, (CADM) O7, one star. This makes nobody happy -- the US Navy didn't want a new admiral. In 1983, they change it back to Commodore, still O7, and the USN complains again, because NATO admirals are wondering why we are blathering about Senior Captains again. This is the rank that Grace Hopper was promoted to -- Commodore (COMD) O7. The griping continues, and in 1985, the USN decides that the Commodore Experiment had failed, and was making it hard to use Commodore in the a useful way -- to use a captain in a more senior position. So, they change for the last time, and all USN Commodores become, again, USN Rear Admirals, Lower Half. However, unlike before, RDML wear just one star, matching their fellow O7 Brigadier Generals, and everyone is satisify.

(And, finally, back to the topic!)

COMD Hopper becomes RDML Hopper. When she finally fully retired from the Navy, they held a ceremony for her aboard the USS Constitution. She was the oldest serving officer in the Navy (79 years) and she retired aboard the oldest serving ship in the navy (188 years, at the time.) Admiral Hopper being who she was, she did file a formal protest at her involuntary retirement.

Her military achievements, in strictly military terms, were not particularly great. Her highest awards were the Defense DSM and Legion of Merit. But the USN does recognize her very great achievements in computing, and the transformation that those brought to the Navy, and in 1996, the USS Hopper DDG-70, became only the second US Navy warship to be named after a woman. Hopper still serves, and on the ships crest is a lozenge with a star and trident. The lozenge was the traditional heraldic shape for a woman's own coat of arms, and the star symbolizes her rank. Her frequently used motto, "Dare and Do", appears in Latin. (Aude Et Effice.)

* The UK has similar, but the last is Brigadier, not Brigadier General, and is not a flag rank.
posted by eriko at 6:57 AM on October 7, 2011 [18 favorites]

Grace Hopper. Hedy Lamarr. Ada Lovelace.

My tech heroines are here. I'm happy.

Grace: "At the age of seven she decided to determine how an alarm clock works. She dismantled seven alarm clocks before her mother realized what she was doing. She was then limited to one clock."

Hedy: A glamorous movie star in pre-War Austria, she married a Nazi, found out what they were about, and fled with only a suitcase to England. Working there as a waitress, she was discovered and sent to Hollywood... where, as one of the most beautiful actresses of the Golden Age of cinema, she quite naturally conceived of frequency-hopping secure communication, and partnered with a musician to create the first working prototype, based on player pianos.

Ada Lovelace: conceived of computers. 'Nuff said.
posted by IAmBroom at 7:06 AM on October 7, 2011

Today is a great day! Thanks for the wonderful post.
posted by HopperFan at 7:06 AM on October 7, 2011

This Grace Hopper interview is priceless.

Totally. I saw young Dave and thought: "This is an old interview". And then . . .

Dave: You're working a full day now for a private firm, right?
Adml. Hopper: Digital Equipment Corporation. Good outfit. Gotta get that in there.

This... this is a VERY old interview. Vax 11/780. Represent.
posted by The Bellman at 7:12 AM on October 7, 2011

eriko, you win the Internet for today. Thanks for that comment.
posted by benito.strauss at 7:24 AM on October 7, 2011

shame there's an awful programming language named after Ada..
posted by k5.user at 9:17 AM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Dorothy Stein's Ada: A Life and a Legacy suggests there was less there than meets the eye (see here for more).

I've no dog in this fight, but if anyone knows a good refutation to this POV, I'd be interested in seeing it.
posted by IndigoJones at 4:20 PM on October 7, 2011

When I worked at RIM, because Canadians have more holidays than Americans, they gave us three floating holidays, called "RIM Days". I took a RIM day to move into my new apartment, but I didn't want to just take the day off, I wanted to make it an actual holiday.

So I looked through wikipedia for famous people born that day and found Grace Hopper. When I read the story about how she used to carry around a "nanosecond" to explain the speed of light to admirals, she became my hero. I hope Ada Lovelace day helps more people learn about her.
posted by heathkit at 6:10 PM on October 7, 2011

Also, I found this 1982 60 Minutes interview with Grace Hopper. She really was amazing.
posted by heathkit at 11:42 PM on October 7, 2011

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