Friday, 26 March 2010

Ada Lovelace Day

I don't think she'd mind me being late - I've been busy doing work on Genetic Algorithms for my PhD in Computer Science, and teaching HAZOP - Hazard and Operability analysis. So I missed the March 24th deadline. Traditional in Computer Science, I guess.

Part of the celebration of Ada Lovelace day is to blog about a heroine of Computer Science. But which one to choose? There's Ada herself of course. Ada Augusta King (nee Byron - yes, that Byron), Countess Lovelace. It's not inaccurate to call her the world's first programmer.

Or Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper perhaps. Inventor of possibly the world's first high-level language, COBOL, still in use today, and who introduced the word "debugging" into the English language.

Perhaps the many unsung heroines of Bletchley Park, and the Manhattan Engineering District. Or the programmers of ENIAC, women like Jean Bartik, Frances Spence, and Kathleen Antonelli.

As Wiki records about Frances Spence:
Although one of the original programmers of the ENIAC, her role as well as the other woman contributors were downplayed, due to the stigma that woman didn't like technology.
But for purely personal reasons... I'm going for Lynn Conway. In her own words:
In the 80's and 90's, Lynn went on to enjoy a wide-ranging, influential career, and a wonderfully adventurous, fulfilling and happy personal life. She is now Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Emerita, at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, where she also served for many years as Associate Dean of Engineering. She now lives on country property in rural Michigan with her husband Charlie. They've been together since 1987.

However, for 31 years after her transition, Lynn carefully remained in "stealth mode". Only her closest friends knew about her past. Lynn knew of other transsexual women who had been socially ostracized, ghettoized, beaten, gang-raped, murdered or driven to suicide when "read" or otherwise discovered by brutal, hateful people.

For years Lynn lived with an ever-present sense of danger, fearful that exposure of her past could cause her to lose her civil rights, legal rights and employment rights, and to suffer estrangements in her professional and personal relationships.

In 1999, computer historians finally stumbled into Lynn's early IBM work. They tracked it down to her, and her past was revealed amongst her colleagues. Frightened at first, she gradually realized times might have changed enough that she needn't be afraid to be "out" now.

She can still be fired for being Trans in 38 states though. The times don't change without some prodding sometimes. And the value of Heroines is that they inspire us all, to achieve all we can for all Humanity, professionally and otherwise. Moving the mountain one teaspoonful at a time.


Anonymous said...


I was linked your blog by a friend earlier today, and have been reading it for the past few hours. It's wonderful, and a rarity that someone presents sex and gender in the way you do. It's something I can relate to.

And I'd just like to say, thank you. Thank you so much. Reading your blog gives me a sense of hope, that someday, everyone else besides me can see the best man I've been trying to be.

Thanks, Zoe.

Nihilist (I was linked here from whygodwhy, and that is my name there.)

Kimberly said...

Zoe, I just read your attempt at educating the uneducatable at the Newsbusters site concerning the NPR story on the the TG kids. I would liken your experience to how someone might like to hit themself in the head with a hammer, because it feels so good when they stop. You are one brave and tolerant person to put up with that group of cretins for as long as you did. Nice try though!

Zoe Brain said...

Would you believe... I'm making progress? Four years ago, the opposition was almost unanimous. Now... less than half of what it was.

The Groupthink effect has been broken. There's no longer unanimity of opposition, and the message is getting through.

Remember that for every commenter, there's a dozen lurkers. They're the ones I'm after.