The Hidden Figure of Ruth Freshour

Ruth Freshour & Avidac
The expert teaches the newbies how to program a computer.

Today would have been my mother-in-law Ruth Freshour’s 94th birthday.

Ruth would be amazed at the world we live in. Not because she would have been amazed at all the wonderous gadgets we can play with. Not because she would be astounded at how technology permeates our lives. No, she would have been astounded because all of those gadgets and systems and technology are things she had a hidden hand in creating.

She grew up in Worcester Massachusetts, her mother a homemaker and her father, well you could say her father had a variety of ways of making money. Most of those ways involved some form of speculation. Speculation as to the turn of a card or the speed of a horse. He must have been pretty good at it since they lived as comfortably as could be expected during the Depression.

Ruth was a bright girl. Really bright. Smarter than her brother and sister. Smarter than a lot of the boys at school. Smart enough that she could apply to and get into Smith College, one of the “Seven Sisters” colleges, the equivalent in the pre-coed days to the Ivy League. Of course while her classmates had their tuitions paid for via the interest, never the principle, of their trust funds, Ruth’s tuitions were paid via crumpled up fives and tens adorned with cryptic notes about various horses’ pedigrees.

I’m sure the Bursar’s department at Smith must have loved that.

At Smith she studied mathematics, not only out of a cerebral love of math and a feeling of calling to the field but out of the prosaic desire to have a job that paid a decent salary, didn’t involve manual labor, and could put her in position to find a husband who she could feel was her intellectual equal. In 1949 she graduated Smith and began applying for jobs.

A degree in math usually meant a ticket to a teaching position, but teaching jobs were hard to come by. Returning WWII vets got first pick, then any other man, then the other guys, then back to the first guys to see if maybe the other job fell through, and then if desperate finally down to highly qualified women. But find a job she did, with the largest employer of mathematicians in the world at the time — the United States government.

First she was sent to Annapolis Maryland, to the Ballistics Research Lab of the Aberdeen Proving Ground. Aberdeen did the research that developed all types of new weapons. They needed a way to be able to test the theories about what those weapons could do before deciding if it was worthwhile making the weapons. For that you turn to math. Math and a giant room filling box of wires, diodes, and lights with the enigmatic name of Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer.

ENIAC

Ruth spent three years programming the ENIAC though the term programming didn’t even exist back then. It was just math and the people who tamed the mechanical beast were mathematicians, not programmers. She must have been pretty good at it because eventually she got the call to the big leagues and headed off to the deserts of New Mexico, home to the Los Alamos Scientific Lab to work on the math for the second generation of atomic and thermonuclear weapons. Continue reading “The Hidden Figure of Ruth Freshour”

Then It Comes, and Are You Ready

Because of some real-life stuff happening, ie real life is happening all the time right now and I’m doing my best with it, I can’t commit to weekly threads about this show but YOU SHOULD ALL BE WATCHING PICARD: 

What I loved about Picard’s immediate embrace of Dahj was that it speaks to everything Picard was in the television show: a generous soul with a sixth sense for when someone is telling the truth, no matter how outlandish. And after his trip to Starfleet archives, he very tenderly tells Dahj the truth: She isn’t human. Picard’s archival materials are a treasure trove for Trekkies: the Captain Picard Day sign and the model of the Stargazer, for starters.

To Picard, Dahj is every bit as deserving of empathy as Data was.

“If you are who I think you are, you are dear to me in ways that you can’t understand,” Picard tells her. “I will never leave you.”

I grew up on Next Gen but even before that I had an Authority Thing and an Older Man Thing and a Mentor/Student Thing and so Captain Picard pushed all the buttons. Teenage me would have thrown myself at him while he chivalrously drove me home and told me to concentrate on my homework. (Part of the appeal of crushes like that is that you know they would never.)

And you have to remember there was nothing GOOD on TV back then. Watch the Drumhead episode, the Borg storyline, the “Family” ep I still can’t re-watch without being completely destroyed, and yes, right now AMC and HBO give us that kind of depth and character development and goddamn Shakespearean glory every single week but back then? Imagine seeing this when all you’d seen was Growing Pains:

There was nothing like that, holy shit. The language blew my tiny baby-writer mind. My body was ready for Star Trek: Picard, is what I’m saying, and I still wasn’t ready.

HERE BE SPOILERS FOR EVERYTHING UP TO TOMORROW.

Continue reading “Then It Comes, and Are You Ready”

GOAL MET! Thank you all!

UPDATE: You are all the absolute best, and thank you all for contributing. It’s much appreciated and will help keep the old place humming for the next year, during which — and this is just a guess — some stuff might happen that we might want to write about. It means the world to know that what we do here matters to you. Thanks again.

Fifteen years, bitches. Time for an annual fundraising post.

Once a year we ask those of you who enjoy this site and have a little cash to spare to throw some our way to help keep the lights on.

Continue reading “GOAL MET! Thank you all!”

GOOOOOAAAAALLLLLLLL!!!!!!

UPDATE THE THIRD: We did it! Thank you to everyone who contributed. This Sunday look for special Kick-and-cats-blogging in joyful celebration, and we really, really appreciate the ability to keep the lights on around here for another year! Update II: CRAZYTOWN WE ARE ONLY $400 AWAY FROM OUR GOAL. You guys get a Kick and Catz video if you put this thing away by midnight!  Update: WE ARE HALFWAY TO OUR GOAL AFTER 2 DAYS. You guys are amazing. Thank you all so much. Click here to keep it going!  Hey, the earth is caving in, help us keep the … Continue reading GOOOOOAAAAALLLLLLLL!!!!!!

The Name of the Place? Babylon 5.

Apologies to everybody who came hither through Galactica or Game of Thrones. This show was my first true love:  Over the course of the first season, the show focused on crisis-of-the-week storylines, such as the station dockers going on strike after Earth refuses to pay for more advanced and safer equipment after a horrendous accident kills several workers, and also on a series of longer-running mysteries. Sinclair’s missing memories (which gradually start to return) is the most prominent of these, but there are also the military provocations by the resurgent and belligerent Narn Regime against their former conquerors, the Centauri, … Continue reading The Name of the Place? Babylon 5.

On #GivingTuesday, Consider The Media

I mean us, of course. Remember this? Yeah, it’s real. Today I’m gonna write about our fundraiser because we’ve been doing this Internet thing for 17 years now and sometimes it feels like no time but sometimes I feel like Internet Grandma talking about the good old days when if you knew what HTML was you were like some kind of magic genius and people threw money at you. Well, not really, but it did seem back in 2004 when we merrily threw ourselves into fighting the Bush administration’s bullshit that there was gonna be some kind of knocking down … Continue reading On #GivingTuesday, Consider The Media

Boys Only Want Love When It’s Torture: Game of Thrones Thread

Apologies for not getting this up Sunday night. We moved house Saturday and then I worked all day Sunday and got home very, very late and didn’t have it in me to do more than crash on the mattress which is on the floor right now because our bed is in pieces in the garage.

Spoilers.

Continue reading “Boys Only Want Love When It’s Torture: Game of Thrones Thread”

Rummage sales are life. The rest is just details.

The reason this post is late is because I spent the last hour and a half looking up everything I could find on Carry-Lite Duck Decoys manufactured in Milwaukee. Am I a hunter? No. Do I care about becoming a hunter? No. What the hell is wrong with me? A lot, it turns out. I picked up six of these decoys at a rummage sale today, so duck decoys have become my obsession of the moment. A friend in California is a hunter and mentioned how to locate interesting and valuable decoys at one point. A friend here noted that … Continue reading Rummage sales are life. The rest is just details.

The One You Choose: 12 Monkeys, Trump, and motherhood at the end of the world

We’re in a place now, in our culture, where we’re talking about time travel a lot. Those of us that aren’t talking about killer robots and how to screw them are talking about time travel. For a while we were talking about World War I a lot, which was understandable given the unwinnable, inexplicable wars grinding trenches through our public life. Then the trenches gave up their dead, and we talked about zombies for what seemed like forever. Now we’re building time machines, trying to fill in the trenches before they’re dug. Trying to figure out if there is any … Continue reading The One You Choose: 12 Monkeys, Trump, and motherhood at the end of the world

Sunday Final Fundraising Day

So, so close. We’re only $300 away from our goal right now!  Do you want a paid van for the next debate and election night, that doesn’t smell like whatever the cats puked up when I took that hard left at Albuquerque? Do you want MOAR MOAR MOAR videos, pet pics, essays about bad cartoons and worse presidential candidates? Wanna carry us across the finish line and make sure you can stop seeing these posts? Then CONTRIBUTE TODAY, and thank you!  A. Continue reading Sunday Final Fundraising Day

Fundraising Final Stretch

The First Draft fundraising link is staying up through Sunday because, well, we only do this once a year. We don’t need tens of thousands of dollars ever quarter like the Freepi, because we don’t have as much of our souls to try to get out of hock, but we do want to keep the experience ad-free and pay for a nice van for election night so people stop getting kicked out and left by the side of the road. And right now our total stands short of that, less than half the number of contributors we had last year. … Continue reading Fundraising Final Stretch

#NeverWingnuts

Watching otherwise intelligent people make common cause with scumbag assholes just because they both hate Trump is going to be the thing that ends me this election cycle. Jude and I have been texting this GIF back and forth to each other for like a year now: Example one: This from @JonahNRO is a good taste of what the alt right is about https://t.co/A5A4z6bunM pic.twitter.com/09oFMyBUM9 — Matthew Yglesias (@mattyglesias) August 25, 2016 On the one hand I think it’s pathetic that these people think this is the highest and best use of their time. On the other hand, I do … Continue reading #NeverWingnuts

Everything Broken: Game of Thrones Thread

queeninthenorth

“Night work is not knight’s work,” Lady Dustin said. “And Lord Wyman is not the only man who lost kin at your Red Wedding, Frey. Do you imagine Whoresbane loves you any better? If you did not hold the Greatjon, he would pull out your entrails and make you eat them, as Lady Hornwood ate her fingers. Flints, Cerwyns, Tallharts, Slates … they all had men with the Young Wolf.”

“House Ryswell too,” said Roger Ryswell.

“Even Dustins out of Barrowton.” Lady Dustin parted her lips in a thin, feral smile. “The north remembers, Frey.”

— A Dance with Dragons

APPARENTLY NOT ALL THAT WELL.

Continue reading “Everything Broken: Game of Thrones Thread”

Going On: Game of Thrones Thread

Let’s get some stupid out of the way first: 

Do portentous birds and beasts appeal to you? Why not try spreading some fortune cookies around in your backyard and pretend they are pearls of wisdom bequeathed by Quizzilneck the Engimatic Gopher? That way you’ll still have 59 hours free to rotate your tires, clean out the gutters and complete all the various other chores associated with responsible adulthood.

My favorite Facebook comment on this “takedown” — as the URL describes it — was, “Which Hobbit hurt you, dude?”

This Northwestern prof seems really loud about how he doesn’t like Game of Thrones, and okay. I don’t like country music. I don’t go over to forums devoted to country music and yell I HATE ALL YOUR TWANGY WHINY OOOH SHE LEFT ME I’M SO SAD HORSESHIT AND I’M SO MUCH COOLER THAN YOU! Like what is the point of talking about which pop culture thing you do not enjoy? Did someone ask him? Was it not possible to simply say, “Not my scene?”

Fans can be annoying. My reaction to people who haven’t read The Beekeeper’s Apprentice is to shove a copy into their hands and offer to take care of all their work for a few days so they can devour it whole. I am evangelical on the topic of Our Lord and Savior Lin-Manuel Miranda. I do judge you if you’re not watching The Magicians.

I have things I’m sick of being told to love, too. Like the Beatles. Arrested Development. And church.

But instead of owning that you feel a little sad and left out because everybody likes this thing you’re not into, you write for the LA Times that that thing sucks and is uncool? I don’t … what contribution to the conversation does that make  beyond establishing you as a superior person not at all interested in clickbait?

Ugh. Moving on.

Continue reading “Going On: Game of Thrones Thread”

In Case You Missed the 7,000 Posts Last Fall

First Draft has a book finally! If you didn’t contribute to the Kickstarter, you missed all the updates about the shipping for the first edition, which is almost done (will you last group of lazy people please fill out your surveys?). Since that’s just about done, additional copies are on sale at Lulu.com, where you can read all about the bad early days of political blogging from me and our benevolent blogfather, relive the time Tena and I got wasted and liveblogged (there WAS NO TWITTER, YOUNGS) a presidential debate, and the origins of the whole “our fate is your … Continue reading In Case You Missed the 7,000 Posts Last Fall