Meet Margaret Hamilton, the badass ’60s programmer who saved the moon landing – Vox

In the early days, women were often assigned software tasks because software just wasn’t viewed as very important. “It’s not that managers of yore respected women more than they do now,” Rose Eveleth writes in a great piece on early women programmers for Smithsonian magazine. “They simply saw computer programming as an easy job. It was like typing or filing to them and the development of software was less important than the development of hardware. So women wrote software, programmed and even told their male colleagues how to make the hardware better.”

“I began to use the term ‘software engineering’ to distinguish it from hardware and other kinds of engineering,” Hamilton told Verne’s Jaime Rubio Hancock in an interview. “When I first started using this phrase, it was considered to be quite amusing. It was an ongoing joke for a long time. They liked to kid me about my radical ideas. Software eventually and necessarily gained the same respect as any other discipline.”

Hamilton is now 78 and runs Hamilton Technologies, the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based company she founded in 1986. She’s lived to see “software engineering” — a term she coined — grow from a relative backwater in computing into a prestigious profession.

Meet Margaret Hamilton, the badass ’60s programmer who saved the moon landing – Vox

Apollo was also a major software project. Astronauts used the Apollo Guidance Computer, which was placed in both the command module and the lunar module, for navigation assistance and to control the spacecraft, and someone needed to program it.

The software for the guidance computer was written by a team at the MIT Instrumentation Laboratory (now the Draper Laboratory), headed up by Margaret Hamilton. Here’s an amazing picture of her next to the code she and her colleagues wrote for the Apollo 11 guidance computer that made the moon landing possible.

The process of actually coding in the programs was laborious, as well. The guidance computer used something known as “core rope memory”: wires were roped through metal cores in a particular way to store code in binary. “If the wire goes through the core, it represents a one,” Hamilton explained in the documentary Moon Machines. “And around the core it represents a zero.” The programs were woven together by hand in factories. And because the factory workers were mostly women, core rope memory became known by engineers as “LOL memory,” LOL standing for “little old lady.”

Voight-Kampff machine – Off-world: The Blade Runner Wiki

Originating in Philip K Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, the Voight-Kampff machine or device (spelled Voigt-Kampff in the book) also appeared in the book’s screen adaptation, the 1982 science fiction film Blade Runner.

The Voight-Kampff is a polygraph-like machine used by the LAPD’s Blade Runners to assist in the testing of an individual to see whether they are a replicant or not. It measures bodily functions such as respiration, heart rate and eye movement in response to emotionally provocative questions.

The Voight-Kampff machine is perhaps analogous to (and may have been partly inspired by) Alan Turing‘s work which propounded an artificial intelligence test — to see if a computer could convince a human (by answering set questions, etc.) that it was another human.

How To Engineer Serendipity

I’d like to tell the story of a paradox: How do we bring the right people to the right place at the right time to discover something new, when we don’t know who or where or when that is, let alone what it is we’re looking for? This is the paradox of innovation: If so many discoveries — from penicillin to plastics – are the product of serendipity, why do we insist breakthroughs can somehow be planned? Why not embrace serendipity instead?

The final piece is the network. Google has made its ambitions clear — as far as chairman Eric Schmidt is concerned, the future of search is a “serendipity engine” answering questions you never thought to ask. “It’ll just know this is something that you’re going to want to see,” explained artificial intelligence pioneer Ray Kurzweil shortly after joining the company as its director of engineering.

One antidote to this all-encompassing filter bubble is an opposing serendipity engine proposed by MIT’s Ethan Zuckerman. In his book, Rewirehe sketches a set of recommendation and translation tools designed to nudge us out of our media comfort zones and “help us understand whose voices we’re hearing and whom we are ignoring.”

As Zuckerman points out, the greatest threats to serendipity are our ingrained biases and cognitive limits — we intrinsically want more known knowns, not unknown unknowns. This is the bias a startup named Ayasdi is striving to eliminate in Big Data.Rather than asking questions, its software renders its analysis as a network map, revealing hidden connections between tumors or terrorist cells, which CEO Gurjeet Singh calls “digital serendipity.”

The true web / Snarkmarket

One of RSS’s weaknesses in its early days—its chaotic decentralized weirdness—has become, in its dotage, a surprising strength. RSS doesn’t route through a single leviathan’s servers. It lacks a kill switch. As long as the URL resolves, a feed can still surprise you. RSS is the true web: a loose net of dark filaments.

Web Design – The First 100 Years

This leads to a contempt for the past. Too much of what was created in the last fifty years is gone because no one took care to preserve it.

Since I run a bookmarking site for a living, I’ve done a little research on link rot myself. Bookmarks are different from regular URLs, because presumably anything you’ve bookmarked was once worth keeping. What I’ve learned is, about 5% of this disappears every year, at a pretty steady rate. A customer of mine just posted how 90% of what he saved in 1997 is gone. This is unfortunately typical.

We have heroic efforts like the Internet Archive to preserve stuff, but that’s like burning down houses and then cheering on the fire department when it comes to save what’s left inside. It’s no way to run a culture. We take better care of scrap paper than we do of the early Internet, because at least we look at scrap paper before we throw it away

Email-a-Tree Service Doesn’t Go As Planned in the Best Possible Way – The Atlantic

Officials assigned the trees ID numbers and email addresses in 2013 as part of a program designed to make it easier for citizens to report problems like dangerous branches.

The “unintended but positive consequence,” as the chair of Melbourne’s Environment Portfolio, Councillor Arron Wood, put it to me in an email, was that people did more than just report issues. They also wrote directly to the trees, which have received thousands of messages—everything from banal greetings and questions about current events to love letters and existential dilemmas.