Women in CS: Ada Lovelace Time!

As you likely know, today is Ada Lovelace day.

As the history goes, Charles Babbage designed the first computer, which he called ‘the analytic engine’, an unbelievable innovation both in engineerial and computational theory. Although opaque to almost everyone aside from Babbage, the concept of computability was grasped and expanded upon by one young mathematician, Ada Byron, later countess of Lovelace.

Ada Byron’s upbringing was highly unusual for women in this period (even excepting that she was in the tiny percentage of landowning families in England in the early 1800s). Ada was afforded quite a bit of tutoring, due to chronic illness which kept her in bed. But more unusual is that Ada was trained in mathematics, the reason for which being that her mother considered math the natural opposite of poetry, and wanted Ada to be as unlike her “wild” poetic father, Lord Byron, as possible. Ada showed particular skill in mathematics and at age 17, De Morgan suggestion she might become “an original mathematical investigator, perhaps of first-rate eminence”.

As a young adult Ada Byron met Charles Babbage socially, and connected intellectually, writing back and forth about Babbage’s invention. Babbage envisioned his machine as a thing able to do arbitrary calculations, which in itself was an incredible invention. He and Ada discussed the possibility of such a machine, and as a proof of concept, Ada developed the first program which could run on such a machine, one calculating the Bernoulli numbers. This officially makes Ada the first computer programmer. But Ada saw a great deal more promise in the analytic engine than just calculations. She proposed representing and processing other data as numbers, a concept which now enables the vast majority of what we understand computers to be capable of.

Many persons who are not conversant with mathematical studies, imagine that because the business of the engine is to give its results in numerical notation, the nature of its processes must consequently be arithmetical and numerical … This is an error. The engine can arrange and combine its numerical quantities exactly as if they were letters or any other general symbols.

So this is all to say that Ada of Lovelace was a remarkable genius. But talking about how amazing this one example we can find of a brilliant woman in computer science is really antithetical to the goals of Ada Lovelace Day. Especially since since the one woman we can apparently point to died over 150 years ago.

So, here are some computer scientists who actually existed in the last century:

Grace Hopper (1906-1992) was a contemporary of Alan Turing, and like Turing she served during WWII to fight the nazis through the power of computer science! Or something like that. She developed the first compiler for a computer programming language (called the A compiler), conceptualized the idea of machine-independent programming languages, and popularized the term “debugging”.

All the first ENIAC programmers were women:
Kay McNulty, Betty Snyder, Marlyn Wescoff, Ruth Lichterman, Betty Jennings, and Fran Bilas.

Erna Schneider invented computerized telephone switches (the same method that is used today), for which she was awarded one of the first software patents ever issued.

Mary Allen Wilkes developed the assembler-linker model used in modern programming compilers (also arguably the first person to use a home computer).
Conceptualized and implemented the first operating system to sit between a program and the actual computer hardware.

Anita Borg, CTO of XEROX Parc in 1997 (who is being included because of how impressive the research at XEROX Parc is).

Fran Allen in 2006 won the Turing Award. She was responsible for many of the abstractions, algorithms, and implementations that form the basis for optimizations in compilers.

Barbara Liskov won the Turing Award in 2008 for the design of programming languages and software methodology that led to the development of object-oriented programming.

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Media/Fandom: Amazing Depression-Era Photography

(repost from International Business Times)

Very few of the photos from the depression era were done in color. The post above has a genuinely stunning collection, of which, the following is my favorite:

Also, it feels nice to have an image of a woman who reminds us of Rosie the Riveter without doing that god-awful pose, because I feel like Rosie has become the canonical icon of female strength, and however much I love the image, it depresses me more than anything that we cannot think of a single other woman or image or pose that reminds us of equality and strength. Is Rosie the Riveter really the best we can do? Is she really all we can do? God, I hope not.

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Feminism: Another Post About Rape

(repost of Another Post About Rape from Fugitivus)

So there are a lot of politics to rape, especially the aftermath of rape. Especially around the discussion of whether or not a girl (guys can be rape victims too, another post) thought it would be a fun Saturday afternoon to walk down to the police station and be interrogated all day, swabbed down by a lab technician, and then blow a bunch of cash on lawyers so she can spend a day in court being called a whore and asked how she could possibly not have consented when she was holding a drink(Do you know how bad people want to get out of jury duty? Why does anyone think rape victims find court fun?).

People wonder why women don’t “fight back,” but they don’t wonder about it when women back down in arguments, are interrupted, purposefully lower and modulate their voices to express less emotion, make obvious signals that they are uninterested in conversation or being in closer physical proximity and are ignored. They don’t wonder about all those daily social interactions in which women are quieter, ignored, or invisible, because those social interactions seem normal. They seem normal to women, and they seem normal to men, because we were all raised in the same cultural pond, drinking the same Kool-Aid.

And then, all of a sudden, when women are raped, all these natural and invisible social interactions become evidence that the woman wasn’t truly raped. Because she didn’t fight back, or yell loudly, or run, or kick, or punch. She let him into her room when it was obvious what he wanted. She flirted with him, she kissed him. She stopped saying no, after a while.

Here’s the thing that I think explains to people. Or at least, it’s the thing I think of when people tell me how ‘bitchy’ it is that girls ‘lead men on’ by constantly avoiding their touches and glances (and try to pretend that the sexual expectations being thrust on them aren’t really there)…

Here’s a situation every woman is familiar with: some guy she knows, perhaps a casual acquaintance, perhaps just some dude at the bus stop, is obviously infatuated with her. He’s making conversation, he’s giving her the eye. She doesn’t like him. She doesn’t want to talk to him. She doesn’t want him near her. He is freaking her out. She could disobey the rules, and tell him to GET THE FUCK AWAY FROM HER, and continue screaming GET THE FUCK AWAY FROM ME every time he tries to step closer, or speak to her again. And then he will be all, “I was just talking to you! WTF!” and everybody else will be all, “Yeah, seriously, why’d you freak out at a guy just talking to you?” and refuse to offer the support she needs to be safe from dude. Or, the guy might become hostile, violent even. Ladies, you’ve seen that look, the “bitch can’t ignore me” look. It’s a source of constant confusion, as soon as you start budding breasts, that the man who just a moment ago told you how pretty you are is now calling you a stupid ugly whore, all because you didn’t get in his car.

And every time I get shouted at on the street by someone who thinks I owe him my fucking attention. What people seem not to understand is what constitutes consent. Because the way people seem to treat the case is that women are in a constant state of consent (or rather, they think women’s bodies are up for grabs unless a) claimed by another man or b) she acts in a very precise set of ways). Except the ways women who are ‘really’ raped act is not in any way the ways we teach women they are always always supposed to act.

If we teach women that there are only certain ways they may acceptably behave, we should not be surprised when they behave in those ways.

And we should not be surprised when they behave these ways during attempted or completed rapes.

Women who are taught not to speak up too loudly or too forcefully or too adamantly or too demandingly are not going to shout “NO” at the top of their goddamn lungs just because some guy is getting uncomfortably close.

Women who are taught that physical confrontations make them look crazy will not start hitting, kicking, and screaming until it’s too late, if they do at all.

Women who are taught that a display of their emotional state will have them labeled hysterical and crazy (which is how their perception of events will be discounted) will not be willing to run from a room disheveled and screaming and crying.

I find it especially strange that people have such strong expectations of female rape victims to run naked and screaming into a large crowd of strangers. Everything that women are ever taught ingrains the belief that this is not only socially unacceptable, crazy and hysterical, but also dangerous. I really want anyone who ever expects this of rape victims to really really picture themselves doing that. Picture witnessing someone else do that. Would that be well-received? No, I promise you, it would not. Social punishment is a strong motivator, especially so because we learn to obey it unconsciously and constantly.

Nobody obtains the superpower to behave dramatically differently during a frightening confrontation. Women will behave the same way they have been taught to behave in all social, professional, and sexual interactions. And they will be pretty goddamned surprised to come out the other end and find out that means they can legally be raped at any time, by just about anybody.

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Feminism: Ambient Sexism

Whenever someone argues with me that they’re not being sexist because, after all, they didn’t ask any women to go bake cookies naked and then give them blowjobs while scrubbing the kitchen floor (which can be fine if it’s all consensual and fun, but not the point), I think of this article. What people seem to have trouble understanding is that sexism isn’t one thing, and it isn’t many small things, it’s ingrained into everything.

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Feminism: An Introduction to Ambient Sexism

A good, basic explanation of the effect that ambient sexism, and even the threat of ambient sexism, can have on people (repost from The Hidden Brain).

You are a woman worried about sexism who has applied for a job. When you enter your interviewer’s office, you see (a) an office with newspapers, stationery & dictionaries (b) an office with Playboy posters, motorcycle mags & hunting awards (c) an office with rainbow flags and plaques about diversity. Which prospective interviewer is likely to elicit the WORST interview performance from you and why?
It’s the office that contains no clues about the prospective interviewer’s views about gender/sexism/diversity etc that poses the greatest threat to the self-confidence of our prospective interviewee. Remember the puzzle said this was an interviewee who was concerned about sexism. It turns out that ambiguous information (or no information) creates more of a concern to people worried about something (as they spend time trying to figure out who they are dealing with) than a person with explicitly threatening views.
An experiment conducted last year by Rodolfo Mendoza-Denton, Lindsay Shaw-Taylor, Serena Chen and Eunice Chang: The researchers asked female volunteers who were worried about sexism to take a test, and provided them with information ahead of time about the office of the person who would be evaluating them. The offices were broadly similar to what I described in the puzzle. The women given the ambiguous information performed much worse on the test than women given more explicit cues that their evaluator was likely to hold sexist views. The researchers published their work in a paper called “Ironic effects of explicit gender prejudice on women’s test performance” in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.
If you want people to perform at their best — and managers, companies and institutions pay a clear price when talented job-seekers underperform during interviews — you have to make it explicit that you don’t count yourself among the knuckleheads.

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Women in CS: The Word ‘Choose’

Women Choosing Math…

Choice in the Sciences

It’s especially interesting in the articles that argue that women “choose” not to be in higher paying jobs, part of that is the choice to have children. They do know that men can also have children, right? And we’re not seeing a marked lack of fathers in the professional world. I promise you that women don’t purposefully “choose” to do 5 hours more housework a week than their male significant others even when both are employed full time. How are we not seeing that women being expected to do all the child raising and housework *is* sexist?

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