Meet Grace Hopper, the Pioneering Computer Scientist Who Helped Invent COBOL and Build the Historic Mark I Computer (1906-1992)

On a page for its School of Technology, Rasmussen College lists six “Assumptions to Avoid” for women who want to enter the field of computer science. I couldn’t comment on whether these “assumptions” (alleged misconceptions like “the work environment is hostile to women”) are actually disproved by the commentary. But I might suggest a seventh “assumption to avoid”—that women haven’t always been computer scientists, integral to the development of the computer, programming languages, and every other aspect of computing, even 100 years before computers existed.

In fact, one of the most notable women in computer science, Grace Hopper, served as a member of the Harvard team that built the first computer, the room-sized Mark I designed in 1944 by physics professor Howard Aiken. Hopper also helped develop COBOL, the first universal programming language for business, still widely in use today, a system based on written English rather than on symbols or numbers. And she is credited with coining the term “computer bug” (and by extension “debug”), when she and her associates found a moth stuck inside the Mark II in 1947. (“From then on,” she told Time magazine in 1984, “when anything went wrong with a computer, we said it had bugs in it.”)




These are but a few of her achievements in a computer science career that spanned more than 42 years, during which time she rose through the ranks of the Naval Reserves, then later active naval duty, retiring as the oldest commissioned officer, a rear admiral, at age 79.

In addition to winning distinguished awards and commendations over the course of her career—including the first-ever computer science “Man of the Year” award—Hopper also acquired a few distinguished nicknames, including “Amazing Grace” and “Grandma COBOL.” She may become known to a new generation by the nickname, “Queen of Code,” the title of a recent documentary from FiveThirtyEight’s “Signals” series. Directed by Community star Gillian Jacobs, the short film, which you can watch in full here, tells the story of her “inimitable legacy as a brilliant programmer and pioneering woman in a male-dominated field,” writes Allison McCann at FiveThirtyEight.

Hopper’s name may be "mysteriously absent from many history books,” as Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls notes, but before her death in 1992, she was introduced to millions through TV appearances on shows like Late Night with David Letterman (top) and 60 Minutes, just above. As you’ll see in these clips, Hopper wasn’t just a crack mathematician and programmer but also an ace public speaker whose deadpan humor cracked up Letterman and the groups of students and fellow scientists she frequently addressed.

The 60 Minutes segment notes that Hopper became “one of that small band of brothers and sisters who ushered in the computer revolution” when she left her professor’s job at Vassar at the start of WWII to serve in the Naval Reserve, where she was assigned to the Bureau of Ships Computation Project at Harvard. But she never stopped being an educator and considered “training young people” her second-most important accomplishment. In this, her legacy lives on as well.

The world’s largest gathering of women technologists is called “The Grace Hopper Celebration.” And a documentary in production called Born with Curiosity (see a teaser above) hopes that “shining a light on and humanizing role models like Grace makes them relatable in a way that inspires others to greatness.” At a time when women make up the lowest enrollment in computer science out of all of the STEM fields, Hopper’s example and encouragement may be much needed.

via Mental Floss

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Computer Scientists Figure Out What’s the Longest Distance You Could Sail at Sea Without Hitting Land

Back in 2012, a redditor by the name of "Kepleronlyknows" wondered what's the longest distance you could travel by sea without hitting land. And then s/he hazarded an educated guess: "you can sail almost 20,000 miles in a straight line from Pakistan to the Kamchatka Peninsula, Russia."

Six years later, two computer scientists--Rohan Chabukswar (United Technologies Research Center in Ireland) and Kushal Mukherjee (IBM Research in India)--have developed an algorithm that offers a more definitive answer. According to their computations, "Kepleronlyknows was entirely correct," notes the MIT Technology Review.




The longest path over water "begins in Sonmiani, Balochistan, Pakistan, passes between Africa and Madagascar and then between Antarctica and Tierra del Fuego in South America, and ends in the Karaginsky District, Kamchatka Krai, in Russia. It is 32,089.7 kilometers long." Or 19,939 miles.

While they were at it, Chabukswar and Mukherjee also determined the longest land journey you could take without hitting the sea. That path, again notes the MIT Technology Review, "runs from near Jinjiang, Fujian, in China, weaves through Mongolia Kazakhstan and Russia, and finally reaches Europe to finish near Sagres in Portugal. In total the route passes through 15 countries over 11,241.1 kilometers." Or 6,984 miles. You can read Chabukswar and Mukherjee's research report here.

via the MIT Technology Review

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Free Online Computer Science Courses

A Free Oxford Course on Deep Learning: Cutting Edge Lessons in Artificial Intelligence

Nando de Freitas is a "machine learning professor at Oxford University, a lead research scientist at Google DeepMind, and a Fellow of the Canadian Institute For Advanced Research (CIFAR) in the Neural Computation and Adaptive Perception program."

Above, you can watch him teach an Oxford course on Deep Learning, a hot subfield of machine learning and artificial intelligence which creates neural networks--essentially complex algorithms modeled loosely after the human brain--that can recognize patterns and learn to perform tasks.

To complement the 16 lectures you can also find lecture slides, practicals, and problems sets on this Oxford web site. If you'd like to learn about Deep Learning in a MOOC format, be sure to check out the new series of courses created by Andrew Ng on Coursera.

Oxford's Deep Learning course will be added to our list of Free Online Computer Science Courses, part of our meta collection, 1,300 Free Online Courses from Top Universities.

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Infographics Show How the Different Fields of Biology, Chemistry, Mathematics, Physics & Computer Science Fit Together

Ask anyone who's pursued a career in the sciences what first piqued their interest in what would become their field, and they'll almost certainly have a story. Gazing at the stars on a camping trip, raising a pet frog, fooling around with computers and their components: an experience sparks a desire for knowledge and understanding, and the pursuit of that desire eventually delivers one to their specific area of specialization.

Or, as they say in science, at least it works that way in theory; the reality usually unrolls less smoothly. On such a journey, just like any other, it might help to have a map.




Enter the work of science writer and physicist Dominic Walliman, whose animated work on the Youtube channel Domain of Science we've previously featured here on Open Culture. (See the "Related Content" section below for the links.)

Walliman's videos astutely explain how the subfields of biology, chemistry, mathematics, physics, and computer science relate to each other, but now he's turned that same material into infographics readable at a glance: maps, essentially, of the intellectual territory. He's made these maps, of biology, chemistry, mathematics, physics, and computer science, freely available on his Flickr account: you can view them all on a single page here along with a few more of his infographics..

As much use as Walliman's maps might be to science-minded youngsters looking for the best way to direct their fascinations into a proper course of study, they also offer a helpful reminder to those farther down the path — especially those who've struggled with the blinders of hyperspecialization — of where their work fits in the grand scheme of things. No matter one's field, scientific or otherwise, one always labors under the threat of losing sight of the forest for the trees. Or the realm of life for the bioinformatics, biophysics, and biomathematics; the whole of mathematics for the number theory, the differential geometry, and the differential equations; the workings of computers for the scheduling, the optimization, and the boolean satisfiability.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

A Turing Machine Handmade Out of Wood

It took Richard Ridel six months of tinkering in his workshop to create this contraption--a mechanical Turing machine made out of wood. The silent video above shows how the machine works. But if you're left hanging, wanting to know more, I'd recommend reading Ridel's fifteen page paper where he carefully documents why he built the wooden Turing machine, and what pieces and steps went into the construction.

If this video prompts you to ask, what exactly is a Turing Machine?, also consider adding this short primer by philosopher Mark Jago to your media diet.

Follow Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

If you'd like to support Open Culture and our mission, please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us provide the best free cultural and educational materials.

via BoingBoing

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Google Launches a Free Course on Artificial Intelligence: Sign Up for Its New “Machine Learning Crash Course”

As part of an effort to make Artificial Intelligence more comprehensible to the broader public, Google has created an educational website Learn with Google AI, which includes, among other things, a new online course called Machine Learning Crash Course. The course provides "exercises, interactive visualizations, and instructional videos that anyone can use to learn and practice [Machine Learning] concepts." To date, more than 18,000 Googlers have enrolled in the course. And now it's available for everyone, everywhere. You can supplement it with other AI courses found in the Relateds below.

Machine Learning Crash Course will be added to our list of Free Online Computer Science Courses, a subset of our collection, 1,300 Free Online Courses from Top Universities.

Follow Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

If you'd like to support Open Culture and our mission, please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us provide the best free cultural and educational materials.

via Google Blog

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David Lynch Teaches Typing: A New Interactive Comedy Game

Typing programs demand some patience on the part of the student, and David Lynch Teaches Typing is no exception.

You’ve got 90 seconds to get acclimated to the cruddy floppy disc-era graphics and the cacophonous voice of your instructor, a dead ringer for FBI Deputy Director Gordon Cole, the hard-of-hearing character director David Lynch played on his seminal early 90s series, Twin Peaks.

Things perk up about a minute and a half in, when students are instructed to place their left ring fingers in an undulating bug to the left of their keyboards.

That second "in"? Not a typo (though you'll notice plenty of no doubt intentional boo-boos in the teacher's pre-programmed responses...)




The bug in question may well put you in mind of the mysterious baby in Lynch’s first feature length film, 1977’s Eraserhead.

On the other hand, it might not.

David Lynch Teaches Typing is actually a short interactive comedy game, and many of the millennial reviewers covering that beat have had to play catch-up in order to catch the many nods to the director’s work contained therein.

One of our favorites is the Apple-esque name of the program’s retro computer, and we'll wager that frequent Lynch collaborator, actor Kyle MacLachlan, would agree.

Another reference that has thus far eluded online gaming enthusiasts in their 20s is Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing. Take a peek below at what the virtual typing tutor’s graphics looked like around the time the original Twin Peaks aired to discover the creators of David Lynch Teaches Typing’s other inspiration.

David Lynch Teaches Typing is available for free download here. If you’re anxious that doing so might open you up to a technical bug of nightmarish proportions, stick with watching the play through at the top of the page.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her March 20 in New York City for the second edition of Necromancers of the Public Domain, a low budget variety show born of a 1920 manual for Girl Scout Camp Directors. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

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