Who were The Computers?

Socializing over lunch. From left to right, Barbara Paulson, Vickie Wang and Helen Ling. (Credit: JPL)
I have found truth to be malleable in the hands of historians. Writing people out of history or rewriting history so important people are deleted or even replaced with preferred characters seems not uncommon. While some people might have heard of the first programmer ever (Lady Ada Lovelace), the names of the six females who started modern US programming were conveniently hidden from the public. So were their images. In fact, the idea that they were models posing in front of the ENIAC was encouraged. Not until Kathleen Kleiman went searching for female role-models in computer programming did the world get to hear about these six “Computers”: Kay McNulty, Jean Jennings, Betty Snyder, Marlyn Meltzer, Fran Bilas, and Ruth Lichterman.
Any person who differed from the idea of a white male persona were hidden from public mention and public viewing. Many “Computers” who were part of launching NASA’s manned rockets flights, were denied recognition.
The US were far from alone in this regards. British, names like Kathleen Booth or Stephanie Shirley, have probably not been heard of.
It is important that we realize that information will be kept from the public if it suits the purposes of the majority within any field or in any country.
Advertisements

Being human

How do you people stay sane?

When you walk down a street in your hometown or city, or along a corridor on whatever station you visit, how do you stay sane when you see a fellow sentient being who is homeless and hungry, and in need of sanitation and fresh clothes, food and a warm bed, things that you get to enjoy? How do you stay sane when you hear about your neighbor having lost their job, and they’re mired in debt, unable to pay their bills, when you have plenty to spare? How do you stay sane whenever you see an injured stray dog who needs a trip to the nearest vet, with no owner in sight and no one else but you aware of his pain and his plight?

How, meioa, do you and your viewers stay sane when there are so many things you can do to make this universe a better place, day by day, step by step, kindness by kindness, instead of just sitting there complaining about its awful state? How can you and your viewers stay sane whenever you stay silent on matters of social injustice, oppression, and bigotry?

Johnson, J. (2014). Damnation. Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. (p. 318-319).

Farting: popular topic throughout history

In 1781 Benjamin Franklin wrote a letter to the Royal Academy of Brussels that includes the following quote:

Permit me then humbly to propose one of that sort for your consideration, and through you, if you approve it, for the serious Enquiry of learned Physicians, Chemists, &c. of this enlightened Age.

It is universally well known, That in digesting our common Food, there is created or produced in the Bowels of human Creatures, a great Quantity of Wind.

That the permitting this Air to escape and mix with the Atmosphere, is usually offensive to the Company, from the fetid Smell that accompanies it.

That all well-bred People therefore, to avoid giving such Offence, forcibly restrain the Efforts of Nature to discharge that Wind.

That so retain’d contrary to Nature, it not only gives frequently great present Pain, but occasions future Diseases, such as habitual Cholics, Ruptures, Tympanies, &c. often destructive of  the Constitution, & sometimes of Life itself.

Were it not for the odiously offensive Smell accompanying such Escapes, polite People would probably be under no more Restraint in discharging such Wind in Company, than they are in spitting, or in blowing their Noses.

My Prize Question therefore should be, To discover some Drug wholesome & not disagreable, to be mix’d with our common Food, or Sauces, that shall render the natural Discharges of Wind from our Bodies, not only inoffensive, but agreable as Perfumes.

Fart jokes are found in most cultures. The oldest fart joke is apparently from as long ago as ca. 1900 BC in Sumeria (Iraq).

“Something which has never occurred since time immemorial; a young woman did not fart in her husband’s lap.” (Reuters)

The Romans, Anglo-Saxons, Japanese, and Old Egyptians joked about flatulence. I do not understand all of them, but their intended public tend to think that such humour is funny.

 

Propaganda, another name for PR

Any person who thinks that they come from a background without propaganda must be blind or deaf. Perhaps they find fault with the word “propaganda”. PR is another word that is used when public relation people want to convince us of their message. “All they want to do is to bring us information”.

Propaganda usually holds elements of truth interweaved with lies or exaggerations. Politicians seem to favour adjusting statistics to fit their party programs. Historians may tell stories about the “good” (winners of wars) and the “bad” (losers of wars). Scientists can interpret their findings to fit their world-views. Religious leaders threaten dire spiritual consequences unless people part with their money. And we fall for this propaganda.

All we have to do is open our eyes to see it. Take something like GMOs. Now there’s a kettle constantly boiling over for yay- and nay-sayers. GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organisms (large and small). The nay-sayers would have us believe that GMO’s will destroy us and the world around us while the yay-sayers would have us believe that they will save the Earth (meaning humanity) from being destroyed. Reality is somewhere between those extremes.

Ever since humans settled down we have been genetically modifying ourselves and our environments. We have modified many prey animals to the extent that they accept living in our vicinity until we slaughter and eat them. Even predators have been modified to want to lend us helping paws during hunts or be protectors in return for companionship and food. In many cases humans have ended up modifying the animals to such a degree that they have problems with respiratory systems or need cesareans to reproduce. We have done the same thing with plants and experimented until the original versions have nothing to do with what we use today.

What GMOs do is significantly speed up that process. Perhaps that is what frightens people so much. What used to take a good many years, may now be done in a fraction of the time. Personally, I’m fine with GMO’s as long as they do not result in regulations that make it impossible for others to produce products the old-fashioned way. I certainly eat GMO foods and have plants that must be the product of serious experimentation (or perhaps faulty gardening – my thumbs are not exactly green). There may be “evil” scientists planning on making life worse for us by tinkering. However, accidental mistakes are more likely. In fact, I find myself wondering why people believe some of the messages anti-GMO factions preach. That is not to say that there aren’t problems with intentional genetic engineering.

Most propaganda suffers from the same forms of misleading. We need to look beyond the message they want us to hear and dig into what lies behind them. If someone is trying to use scare-tactics or make something seem too good to be true, then we should probably watch out.

When it comes to propaganda horror stories, anti-vaccine people take the prize. It is difficult to phantom the number of people who continue to spread the idea that we should stop vaccinating our children. They claim that vaccines are more dangerous than the disease being vaccinated against. In this case propaganda has killed people by bringing back diseases, such as polio and measles (both deadly). What I would like to do to such people is definitely not considered politically correct.

If you don’t think there is propaganda in your social arenas, you should look again.

Life without humour is not worth living

ASAP Science have posted this lab rule song. Important rules to remember for beginners and experts with a nicely done irreverent tone.

 

Joe Polchinski – genius and friend (reblog)

Reblogging this incredibly interesting tribute to Joe Polchinski ‘s D-Branes.

Image result for joe polchinski

Polchinski — Joe, to all his colleagues — had one of those brains that works magic, and works magically. Scientific minds are as individual as personalities. Each physicist has a unique combination of talents and skills (and weaknesses); in modern lingo, each of us has a superpower or two. Rarely do you find two scientists who have the same ones.

Joe had several superpowers, and they were really strong. He had a tremendous knack for looking at old problems and seeing them in a new light, often overturning conventional wisdom or restating that wisdom in a new, clearer way. And he had prodigious technical ability, which allowed him to follow difficult calculations all the way to the end, on paths that would have deterred most of us.

One of the greatest privileges of my life was to work with Joe, not once but four times. I think I can best tell you a little about him, and about some of his greatest achievements, through the lens of that unforgettable experience.

[To my colleagues: this post was obviously written in trying circumstances, and it is certainly possible that my memory of distant events is foggy and in error.  I welcome any corrections that you might wish to suggest.]

Our papers between 1999 and 2006 were a sequence of sorts, aimed at understanding more fully the profound connection between quantum field theory — the language of particle physics — and string theory — best-known today as a candidate for a quantum theory of gravity. In each of those papers, as in many thousands of others written after 1995, Joe’s most influential contribution to physics played a central role. This was the discovery of objects known as “D-branes”, which he found in the context of string theory. (The term is a generalization of the word `membrane’.)

I can already hear the Lee Smolins and Peter Woits of the world screaming at me. ‘A discovery in string theory,’ some will shout, pounding the table, ‘an untested theory that’s not even wrong, should not be called a discovery in physics.’ Pay them no mind; they’re not even close, as you’ll see by the end of my remarks………………………..

The rest of the article is on Matt Strassler‘s blog.

Autism Speaks: Will they ever learn?

The caffinated autistic updated their post from December 2015 regarding Autism Speaks to make sure the data was updated. There isn’t any improvement in their ability to actually be there for the people they claim to represent. Links to the information are found on The caffinated autistic’s blog. Autism Speaks do not cease disappointing.

Update 4/4/17 – as of December 2015, Autism Speaks now has two autistic board members, Dr. Stephen Shore and Dr. Valarie Paradiz.   In addition, their mission statement no longer includes the word “cure” .  You can read more specifics here. 

When a person thinks of the term “Autism Awareness” in the United States, it’s usually one organization that comes to mind – Autism Speaks.  It is heralded by celebrities, politicians, nonprofit and for profit organizations alike. Many parents of autistic children enthusiastically applaud their “efforts”, even partaking in fundraising, despite not knowing much about what those efforts entail.

Ask an autistic person, however, and you might get quite a different picture of Autism Speaks.

The number one tenet of any activism among disability groups is “Nothing About Us Without Us”, yet Autism Speaks can’t even manage to meet this one basic qualification.  They have never had an autistic member on their board.  Their current board consists of parents, including one who founded SafeMinds, which has contributed to the anti vaccination movement, as well as another board member who used be a board member for Cure Autism Now. To view the full list, click here. To view a list of other leadership in their organization, click here.

The only autistic person high enough up in their leadership to be worth mentioning was John Elder Robison, author of Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s Syndrome and part of their science advisory board.  He resigned his position in November 2013, a decision he spoke about on his blog.

Autism Speaks spends just 3% of the money they raise back into helping families and autistic people.  This comes in various forms, and not all of it is aimed at actually helping autistic people.  Some of it is aimed at communication devices for autistic children and teenagers, and this is of course a very good thing.  Much of it is also aimed at providing ABA therapy for autistic people, which is a behavioral intervention that much of the autism community opposes, particularly autistic people who are now adults who were subjected to it as children.  Some accounts of this are here, here, here and here……………..

The rest of the article is on The caffinated autistic

Third thoughts

Source: Longwood, 2016

“We are good at being skeptical when information conflicts with our preexisting beliefs and values,” Landrum noted. “We are bad at being skeptical when information is compatible with our preexisting beliefs and values.” (Scientific American)

Evolution works with what is available in any given species at any given time. Even if a mutation is highly desirable, it is useless unless it gets passed on to new generations. Once upon a time, enough members of human ancestors broke with tradition and started walking on two legs. Environmental circumstances at that time made this mutation ideal for survival and breeding. Becoming bipedal necessitated other mutations in our bodies, including the brain, and many of the mutations have been passed on to us.

Confirmation bias is not necessarily a bad mutation when seen in light of  survival. Conscious thinking takes time, enough time that a lion might eat us or we might become exiled from our group because we begin questioning accepted truths. Automatic thinking, on the other hand, helps us make instant decisions that could save our lives. Even researchers have to use confirmation bias by presuming that their samples are randomized and representative enough for a much larger population. However, confirmation bias gets in the way when the information we need goes against what we have been taught and how we have learned. According to Miguel de Unamuno (1924)

“The skeptic does not mean him who doubts, but him who investigates or researches, as opposed to him who asserts and thinks that he has found. The one is the man who studies the problem and the other is the man who gives us a formula, correct or incorrect, as the solution of it.” (Todayinsci)

Many times confirmation bias among the general public and most scientists has stood in the way of progress. Researchers are not innoculated against confirmation bias.Take the old ideology of the West that claimed that the Sun circled the Earth. Galileo was severely punished for claiming that the Earth was NOT the center of the Universe and that it circled the Sun. Alfred Wegner was ridiculed by other scientists for his theories about continental drift. In 1972 John Yudkin warned people about the potential dangers of refined sugar, and his theory destroyed his reputation. Not until well after his death in 1995 did scientists begin research on the potential problems of refined sugar. Even people who study the way we think fall prey to inefficient confirmation bias against other psychologists. It took some time before B.F. Skinner’s theories about learning became accepted. Even now many psychologists struggle with the idea that Skinner claimed he could predict how any of us would react to a stimulus based on previous reactions to the same types of stimuli.

Once we start thinking that there could be something to what another person says or does, or we begin doubting that our culture is an optimal one, we might need to change our behaviour and risk losing social standing. Yet, by doing so, we could end up with a positive effect on ourselves and our lives. One of computer science’s starting points was in the 1840’s with Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace. We should be impressed with their genius at a time when steam engines were what was available.

Neither of them, in their wildest imaginings, foresaw the possibilities of today. Not many decades in the past specialists in the field had become too comfortable in their paradigms. History of computers on the ICT Lounge has some fun information that shows how amazing and exponential developments in computer science have been.

Just as some of our ancestors decided they could stand up and walk on their hind legs, we too can ask ourselves if there might be something to what our “opponents” argue. Sometimes there is and sometimes there isn’t. Studying other points of view made my life better and taught me a valuable lesson. One that I still struggle to keep in mind, i.e. that my understanding of the world probably isn’t the ideal one.

Or, in the words of Matthew Inman, The Oatmeal:

Fear is highly irrational

Over on the silent wave, Liana makes a plea not to demonise autism. Get to know us. What makes us different is nothing to fear. Look, I am surrounded by non-autistic people, and while I might never understand their way of seeing the world, I see no reason to be afraid of them, or their […]

via Autism is nothing to fear — Another Spectrum

Demonizing autism brings in money from parents and loved ones who want to “cure” this terrible “disease”. Fear is a commodity in this world. People and institutions push that fear until rational behavior disappears and witch-hunts begin. The US has been at a tipping point for a long time. Autists are not the only “different” people who become sales pitches for callous institutions and individuals. There is a reason someone invented the “bleach-cure” for autism. Concern about parents or autistic children had nothing to do with it.

It’s OK to think of us as people. It’s more likely that you will destroy me than that I will destroy you.

Why we think and behave as we do

There are many theories about why we think and behave as we do. Be they as they may, but the real reason we do what we do, say what we say, and think what we think, lies here: