Grace Hopper portrait photo

Grace Hopper and the invention of the information age.

Grace Hopper and the invention of the information age. Kurt Beyer. The MIT Press. Cambridge Massachusetts. 2009.

Growing up around computers in the early 1990s I never heard of Grace Hopper. Bill Gates, Steve Wozniak, Steve Jobs, Bjorn Strossoup. I heard of those guys but the story of Grace Hopper is incredible and at least at the time was not talked about.

This book should be part of every computer science 101 course in colleges or high schools. At the same time the Eniac, arguably one of the most famous computers ever, was calculating ballistic firing tables Grace Hopper and her commander Howard Aiken with his machine the Mark I, during the war helped calculate solutions for the first atomic bomb. Beyond that they did many other tasks, all the Eniac could do was calculate firing tables. Not only is the story of Grace Hopper important for the history of computing, other females who kicked serious computing butt are highlighted throughout the book. Jean Bartik , Betty Snyder, and Kay McNulty. These women revolutionized programming.

  • If/then blocks
  • Debugger
  • Problem oriented languages
  • Compiler
  • COBOL

Reading the book leaves one in awe of what was done in the early years of computers from the Eniac and Mark I being enormous in size and almost being entirely mechanical. The early technical feats of using magnetic tape storage, mercury delay lines as a type of memory, magnetic disk arrays, and the first RAM. The mental hurdle to go from paper punch cards to a system written on tape is hard to wrap your head around.

Beyer I believe does a really good job of looking not only at the technical accomplishments but the social innovations too. Grace Hopper he points out was not just brilliant as a mathematician but pushed new ways of distributed collaboration in the business world. She worked across industry and between companies bringing in new ideas from others, distributing that new version to others and iterating until a great product arrived. Her first compiler the A-0 was written by herself and then the A-1 by her team at Remmington-Rand. The A-1 then was built by the collective, it was open source before free software was a thing.

For one not familiar with the early programming and hardware evolution Kurt Beyer writes illustratively allowing the reader to place her/himself in the 40’s and 50’s while this all occurred.

Thank you Kurt for writing an awesome introduction to not only the career of Grace Hopper but the beginnings of a new dawn for computing.

Book Cover: An African American holding books jogging in front of school lockers.

Rac(e)ing to Class ~ A Review

I have had the pleasure of reading Milner’s latest book on education, Rac(e)ing to Class, Confronting poverty and race in schools and classrooms. It is not an intimidating looking book but it is packed with content. I first heard of the book on NPR and was able to get a copy from our local University library.

The best part of how Milner writes is that he is honest. He doesn’t have all of the answers but he had done his research and presents what he thinks is a pretty good answer. As a young teacher it is refreshing to hear that it is not always about the teacher, but that leadership needs to lead on issues of poverty and race.

“Shifting the ethos of a district to one that centers its care around those who are most vulnerable requires leaders to embrace principles that reverberate throughout the entire district, not only through what they say but also what they do and expect of others.” p. 31

Now, working at a university and not as a teacher it is with pleasure that I try to assist in those transformational shifts. These discussions can be uncomfortable but the more you talk about it, I find allows for a deeper unpacking of the complexity. Just a few pages after the quote above Milner quotes W.G. Secada on what is meant by equity.

“The essence of equity lies in our ability to acknowledge that even though our actions are in accord with a set of rules, the results of those actions may still be unjust. Equity goes beyond following the rules…equity gauges the results of actions directly against the standards of justice.” p. 34 (I added the emphasis).

I love how that chosen quote frames the book. We all try our best to do the right thing, throughout those efforts, check back in to see how it stacks up against the standards of justice. A thread of optimism weaves through the writing, everything is a challenge, but a challenge with opportunity. Milner writes for the first seventy or so pages about the systemic deficiencies of  schools, districts, and instructional methods. I believe he does so accurately while recognizing the standards based testing drum decrescendo into a soft bass line. There are nice nuggets of insight in this first half, the second part is even better. The second part comprises the case studies and a dissection of teacher education programs.

The NPR story I link to above does a good job of hooking the listener on these case studies. I like the way Milner talks the reader through the situation and delivers an improved lesson for students and the school community in each one. It is masterful. Go borrow or buy the book. You won’t be disappointed.

Purchase directly from Harvard Education Press.

Milner IV, Richard. H. Rac(e)ing to Class: Confronting Poverty and Race in Schools and Classrooms. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.

Sessions I find most intriguing

DrupalCon Los Angeles kicks off in a few days. I am lucky to have an opportunity to partake. I’ll be sprinting Sunday and Friday. The higher-ed summit should be great and I am humbly leading a few table discussions at that.

Here are sessions I find intriguing, the ones with an asterix are where I’ll most likely be.

Sunday

  • Sprints

Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

Thursday

Friday

2 Web Performance Books

I recently read two books focused on website performance.

Designing for performance (weighing aesthetics and speed) by Lara Callender Hogan.

Responsible Responsive Design by Scott Jehl.

The first book is interesting and a very good primer for new developers or for folks that have never considered web performance based on design trade-offs. The second book was a very handy manual of sorts and was my favorite.

I would reccomend reading both if you haven’t had a chance. They should be available from your local library through inter-library loans.

 

Data and Goliath – Book Review

Data and Goliath is the newest book by Bruce Schneier. I have been following Mr. Schneier ever since reading Neal Stepheson’s Cryptonomicon. I have subscribed to his newsletter and seen him speak. With that stated, his new book is very accessible to a wide audience, much more so than his last book Liars and Outliers. It is not a book on cryptography as Applied Cryptography: Protocols, Algorithms, and Source Code in C, is either. It is uniquely positioned to open societies eyes and a short list of actions society as a whole needs to take to reign in corporations and governments to allow us to take back control of our privacy.

The book is broken into three parts and ties a lot of what was revealed by Edward Snowden and the NSA PRISM project into a nice package of what is happening now and what will continue to happen if we don’t stand up and take action. Snowden revelations are sprinkled throughout the book. If the outrage most of the world expressed didn’t make sense to you after hearing about what the NSA, GHCQ, and other government organizations have been doing this book should make it clear. He also makes it clear that not just governments need the data, but the business model of the web is personalized data as well. The Lightbeam plugin is mentioned in the book, it makes browsing the web an adventure again, seeing just who is tracking you every time you go to a website.

Again and again Mr. Schneier presses the reader into thinking this is all doom and gloom but then pulls us back to show how good things can come of data and tracking, if we are allowed to be the ones who choose what to share. He points out early on that Angry Birds tracks our location, not because it is used in the game, but because they can then sell that data to a broker, who will then resell it to a buyer. I was not aware that Europe had stronger laws already on the books than the US that help citizens protect their privacy.

You will be hard pressed to find a more concise book on a defining issue of our internet generation. There are 121 pages of notes in the back of the hard copy as well allowing you to dig deeper into each topic. Many of the suggestions are high level policy changes that need to be made and citizens can have a big impact on that. The jacket reviews would lead on to think that if they read the book and follow some steps they can hide all of their data, that is not going to happen. It is a good book and well worth a few afternoons of reading.

Go buy it our get it at your local library.