Shiny Bowie

My kids love the Moana soundtrack and who can blame them? Lin-Manuel Miranda is amazing. So back in February I introduced them to the Hamilton soundtrack. Turns out, there are a lot of kids who love Hamilton (despite the not-at-all-age-appropriate material in many of the songs).

So, given that music linking success (I’m getting burned out listening to Hamilton every day), I decided to try my luck with some other music. My son loves the Moana song Shiny which is sung by Jemaine Clement of Flight of the Conchords fame.

The song has a definite David Bowie feel, somewhat influenced I think by Flight of the Conchords Bowies in Space.

So, anyway, I figured he might be interested in some classic David Bowie. So, I let him listen to both Changes and Fame on the way back home this evening. He seemed to enjoy them (well, at least he didn’t ask to listen to anything else), so who knows maybe I can get them interested into a lot of different kinds of music. That will definitely save me from getting burned out on just a small handful of songs.

What I Told Our Kids

I’ve been interested in politics for most of my life and Angela is much the same. So we of course discuss politics quite a bit around the house. I do my best to follow my parents’ lead and 1) not get overly emotionally or upset about politics and 2) not present my opinion as the only one that matters. This is important so the kids can grow up forming their own opinions and also so they will be less likely to get in an unnecessary argument with other kids. Kids at school should focus on learning and being kids, not arguing with someone else over who’s parents voted for who. Though I’m adamant our children understand how our country is governed, it’s not really important for them to have strong opinions in grade school on matters of national policy.

But kids do talk about current events and even politics, to a lesser extent, at school. So I wasn’t too shocked when my son told me last Tuesday night after I turned out his lights “I sure hope Trump doesn’t win or I’ll have to move to Canada! He wants to build a wall around the entire country.”

I assured him that we wouldn’t have to move no matter who won and that there wasn’t going to be any wall1. The next morning Angela and I discussed the outcome of the election before the kids got up. But once they did wake up, it was a typical weekday rush to get ready for school and work, so there wasn’t any time to talk about the results of the election. After school, though, while I was making dinner, my daughter called out “So did Trump really win last night?”

“What!?” my son shouted with a look of genuine horror on his face.

So I told them that, yes, Trump did win and that one of the greatest parts of being an American is that we have free elections for our leaders. And even though mommy and I may have both voted for Sec. Clinton, we don’t have to leave or lose anything just because she lost. I explained that this is just how we pick a leader but it has nothing to do with who gets to be American.

Now, to a certain point, that is true. However, there are plenty of people who Trump has promised shouldn’t get to enter or even stay in America. And even if Trump hasn’t directly expressed it, plenty of his supporters have some very strong and disgusting opinions about just who should or should not get to be an American at all. But I really didn’t want to have to burden a nine- and seven-year-old with that, so I figured that would be the end of my two-minute reassurance talk with them.

Then my daughter asked what the KKK was and why were some kids saying the KKK were happy Trump won? That’s right: my innocent little kid was asking about the goddamn Klu Klux Klan2. I explained that they were a very racist group who felt that white people like me were somehow better than other people but that I am most definitely not better than anyone else, no matter what they look like, where they come from, or for any other reason. That God loves everyone just the same and that, without question, anyone who contradicts that is wrong.

As horrified as I was that I was having to hold this conversation with my children as a direct result of a U.S. presidential election, I decided now was the time to start righting the ship. I explained that even though we weren’t better than anyone, there are racist and prejudiced people in this country who wrongly believe that. Further, that our family probably already has it better than most people and are likely to experience far less difficulties and prejudices than other people in our country already do and will under President Trump and many of his supporters. And that as a result of that, it was our duty to help speak up on the behalf of others. That if we ran away or even just looked the other way, it would make the bullies stronger and their victims’ pain even worse. I asked them both to promise me that if they ever heard or saw anyone else being mistreated because of how they look, the color of their skin, or what they believe, that they would tell the person doing so to stop. Tell them that they were wrong. And to tell a responsible adult immediately.

They both gladly promised that they would. So if two kids are brave enough to make that promise, I know I will be, too. There was never a time in this country’s history that we didn’t need to look out for one another, but maybe it took something like this election to remind us of that.

Please note that any hurtful or derogatory comments will be deleted with extreme prejudice.

  1. I’m equally confident about both. President-elect Trump has already stated that the wall may just be a fence in some places. I doubt even that will get built, but feel free to re-check me on that statement over the next four years.
  2. Let’s be very clear bout something right here: If you feel the need to say something in defense of the Klan, you need to leave this site and never come back. If you are somehow offended or upset that I despise the KKK, just as much as I do any white nationalist, white supremacy, or other racist group, you and I can call it quits right here. I may not think I’m superior to you, but I know you are wrong and I have zero need to tolerate you. Full stop.

Software Engineering

This past week of February was National Engineers Week, and it’s always an excellent time to learn about different engineers today as well as those whose shoulders we stand on. I haven’t practiced engineering as a professional in over eight years, but I still work with engineers and structural engineering every day at Bentley Systems.

I wanted to post a bit on some of the history of software engineering and, in particular, just how much women have contributed and really created that discipline.

Ada Lovelace

Ada Lovelace pictured with her table of algorithms created as an example code

Lovelace is widely recognized as having created the very first computer code language, when transcribing in her shorthand some mathematics to use on Charles Babbage’s difference engine. Stephen Wolfram did some research on Lovelace’s life and wrote a fascinating article on her life and work.

 

WWII Computers

Prior to the general adoption of digital computers, a “computer” was actually a human person who sat and did calculations all day. These were almost without exception women, many of whom had degrees in mathematics but were not able to continue on in the field due to their gender. During World War II, when the US Army was researching the first digital computer — the ENIAC, a group of these women who had been calculating munition trajectories were hired on to encode the same calculations into that computer. They wrote the computer code and the debugging for the first computer.

The excellent documentary “Top Secret Rosies1 contains many first-person interviews with these women and the men who fought in WWII, using their work everyday in the war.

Katherine Johnson

She was a computer when computers wore skirts.

And Katherine Johnson was just about the best. So good, in fact, that when digital computers were being used to calculate the mission trajectories for the first moon landing, John Glen insisted that they be checked by Johnson first2.

Makers.com has a wonderful set of video interviews about her career.

Last year, Johnson was awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom —one of the two highest civilian honor this country bestows— in honor of her accomplishments as well as her being a role model for women and people of color.

Grace Hopper

Rear Admiral Grace Hopper was an early computer scientist who is probably best known for having discovered an actual bug (a moth) in a piece of computer equipment (a printer). However, it was her contribution of creating the first digital compiler for taking human-readable code and converting it to machine language that was truly a remarkable achievement.

As a I told my after school coding club kids last Fall, anytime you are debugging code so a computer can understand it, think about Admiral Hopper!

Margaret Hamilton

Margaret Hamilton standing next to listings of the Apollo Guidance Computer (AGC) source code (Courtesy Wikipedia)

While Katherine Johnson and others had calculated the trajectory for the Apollo mission, the spacecraft itself now had digital computers on board. Margaret Hamilton was the lead software engineer —a phrase coined by Anthony Oettinger and then put into wide use by Hamilton— for the Apollo craft’s operating system. Her foresight into operation priorities saved the day when a radar system malfunctioned but the guidance system architecture still landed the lunar module. She founded Hamilton Technologies in 1986.

Today

I can’t help but wonder that men haven’t simply co-opted the role of software engineer from women once it became clear that software was a worthwhile endeavor. However, there are many great women engineers practicing today, in both software and other engineering disciplines. I have the privilege of working with many at Bentley Systems. However, we’ve done a great disservice to young women in creating a culture that fails to encourage women into science, technology, engineering, and mathematics careers. STEM programs go a long way to help right this, but I think we also need to recognize that women have managed to create much of the modern world we know today, particularly in the field of software. And this in spite of the uphill climb many of these women faced in just finding work at all!

So in honor of engineers week, let’s be sure to let young women know that not only is their a future in STEM for them, but there is also an amazing past to be proud of!

Coding is for girls” by Anne McGraw

Further Reading

  1. At the time of this writing, it was on DVD only and not especially easy to find. I was able to rent it from Netflix and it may be for sale on Amazon. I highly encourage anyone interested in tech, history, or warfare to watch it.
  2. Always check the computer kids! It’s only as good as the programmer.

Octavia Butler’s Oankali

Amy Deng’s Oankali for an art exercise “Imagining the Oankali.” A Google image search for Oankali and Ooloi does’t turn up much other than a lot of rough fan art, but I liked this drawing a lot; as much because of its analytical approach as the representation itself.

For the second year now, I’ve read an Octavia Butler novel during the month of February. February, being black history month, seemed like a good time to read her work and pay respect to one of the greatest science fiction authors. However, it’s also a bit ridiculous to only relegate her work to one month a year and I plan to finish the Xenogenesis trilogy (aka, Lilith’s Brood) this year. I especially love science fiction with truly “alien” creatures and Butler’s Oankali are unique in every aspect.

But if you’re not familiar with Octavia Butler and her work —and I wasn’t for most of my life— take some time to learn more about her. She was by all indications a genuinely wonderful person who proved having diverse points of view are important to science fiction or any genre. I particularly enjoyed reading this interview from In Motion Magazine, which was likely one of her last as well as watching this interview with Charlie Rose for PBS. Science fiction and fantasy genres have always had an issue with a lack of diversity and it is extraordinary what she accomplished for women and people of color.

This final quote from an interview she did in Locus Magazine in 2000 makes me especially sad that she abandoned her final parable novel:

Parable of the Trickster – if that’s what the next one ends up being called – will be the Seattle novel, because I have removed myself to a place that is different from where I’ve spent most of my life. I remember saying to Vonda McIntyre, ‘Part of this move is research,’ and it is – it’s just that Seattle is where I’ve wanted to move since I visited there the first time in 1976. I really like the city, but it is not yet home. As they tell writers to do, I’ll take any small example of something and build it into a larger example. I’ve moved to Seattle; my characters have moved to Alpha Centauri, or whatever. (That was not literal.) But they suffer and learn about the situation there a little bit because of what I learn about from my move to Seattle. Writers use everything. If it doesn’t kill you, you probably wind up using it in your writing.

So if you’re inspired to learn more about African-American contributions during Black History month, then by all means start with Octavia Butler. Just be sure to not leave her there but continue enjoying her amazing writing anytime.

The Real Glass Menagerie

Angela and I were able to go see a local production of Tennessee Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie” Saturday night. The cast and production were excellent and the audience, ourselves included, were moved by Laura’s panic attack as Jim arrives and with Tom’s final address of the audience.:

Perhaps I am walking along a street at night, in some strange city, before I have found companions. I pass the lighted window of a shop where perfume is sold. The window is filled with pieces of coloured glass, tiny transparent bottles in delicate colours, like bits of a shattered rainbow.

Then all at once my sister touches my shoulder. I turn around and look into her eyes…

Oh, Laura, Laura, I tried to leave you behind me, but I am more faithful than I intended to be!

I had recalled from high school that this play was largely autobiographical, but reading more about Williams’ life makes that scene all the more heartbreaking. One of Williams’ two sisters, Rose, was Tennessee’s (real name: Thomas) closest friend when growing up was the basis for the character of Laura, or “Blue Roses” as she is nicknamed in the play. Rose Williams was given a lobotomy —one with some apparently very bad effect on her personality— after he left home to pursue his career in writing. He later would move her to a closer facility and, upon his death, leave much of his wealth to provide for her.

“The Glass Menagerie” was a ground-breaking play in how it dealt with personality disorders, inter-family dynamics, and the cost of leaving home for one’s own sake. It’s no wonder it still has so much power knowing what Williams went through for the source.

Schneider on the FBI Demand on Apple

When Bruce Schneier weighs in on the security implications of government actions, we should all pay attention:

We cannot build a backdoor that only works for a particular type of government, or only in the presence of a particular court order.

This is the person that coined the phrase “security theater” and he isn’t in the habit of making up unlikely stories to scare us. He is, however, very good at understanding real risks to security for people, businesses, and countries.

PAC Insanity

School boards and parent organizations should be really boring stuff, but it’s been pretty heated in Williamson County, TN in the past year. A local parent organization called Williamson Strong was fined $5,000 dollars recently when it was decided that they were operating as an unregistered Political Action Committee (PAC). They are appealing the decision and, in fact have a federal case against Tennessee’s PAC laws. The following is a from a Tennessean article on the lawsuit:

State law defines a “political campaign committee,” commonly known as a PAC, as “a combination of two (2) or more individuals, including any political party governing body, whether state or local, making expenditures, to support or oppose any candidate for public office or measure, but does not include a voter registration program.”

State law defines “expenditure” in pertinent part as a “purchase, payment, distribution, loan, advance, deposit or gift of money or anything of value made for the purpose of influencing a measure or the nomination for election or election of any person to public office.”

In case the absurdity of how much that limits free speech that isn’t immediately ridiculous, let me ask this:

If my kid & I borrow some poster board and paint to make a sign to support our neighbor who wants to run for school board, should we first register as a PAC in Tennessee?

The Registry of Election Finance, who issued the fine, indicated that the amount of money spent wasn’t at issue. Basically, if any two people spend any amount of money, they could be fined thousands of dollars with no way to give their side of the issue? And school board member Susan Curlee1 has shown that she is nothing if not tenacious and vindictive, so who would risk that sort of thing? It absolutely is the sort of thing to put a hold on political free speech.

I cannot believe it, but I’m actually glad of the Citizens United case ruling and hope this Williamson Strong case is overturned and the law is found to be a violation of the First Amendment. I believe in campaign finance reform and limit the insane amounts of money spent on influencing elections, but that’s no where near the sort of thing we’re discussing here. Some e-mail lists and a website domain registration aren’t likely anyone’s definition of large campaign expenditures, even in a local school board race.

  1. But just to CMA, this site and its contents are completely paid for by myself and I’m not yet currently making any public recomendations for school board members.