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Computer History Must Include People of Color

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perl_geek
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Re: Symbolism?
perl_geek   6/26/2017 10:33:14 AM
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"She did mention something about a starter," - which didn't make a lot of sense in context, considering that they were clearly in the middle of a trip.

Debating a appropriate failure to fit all  the circumstances could probably keep an enthusiast forum happy for weeks.

"I happened to see the book in a bookstore today and picked it up and paged through it and certainly didn't see any equations."

You may recall Stephen Hawking's note in "The Brief History of Time" about his publisher saying that every equation in a book halved its potential sales. Obviously, they felt the book had enough strikes (mathematics, women, colour) against it already.

The "equation index" clearly doesn't apply to actual maths textbooks. If you want to make a massive amount of money forever from writing, forget literature or history.  Write a successful mathematics text.  (Look up James Stewart's Calculus eries.to see what rewards that can bring.)

 

Kevin Neilson
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Re: Symbolism?
Kevin Neilson   6/26/2017 2:35:33 AM
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Yes, I think the math was portrayed "symbolically", as you say.  I found my copy of von Braun's "The Mars Project" and re-read it.  He first wrote this in the late 40s.  In one section called "Paths of Retardation" he shows how to roughly figure out the landing sites of the lower stages of the rocket, which is basically what Katherine was trying to do in the film.  von Braun uses Runge-Kutta to do a numerical integration.  Runge-Kutta is a superset of several methods, of which Euler's is the simplest.  So this idea certainly wasn't new in the early 60s when the film took place.  I don't think it would've hurt them to have put in a few more details about how the ladies did math, since this is supposed to be their defining characteristic.  I happened to see the book in a bookstore today and picked it up and paged through it and certainly didn't see any equations.  "The Mars Project" is full of them.  You can ignore the chapters about designing wings for the reentry capsules, though.  Turns out you don't need them.

Kevin Neilson
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Re: Symbolism?
Kevin Neilson   6/26/2017 2:22:00 AM
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I also wondered what she might have been doing under the car.  She did mention something about a starter, but she seemed to be underneath the radiator.

It's true some people get written out of history, but I've noticed a lot of people getting written in as well.  A person's historical significance is a function of current trends.

Arvid
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Re: Symbolism?
Arvid   6/23/2017 7:21:18 PM
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Thank you for all of your comments. As many of you suggest, I think that films like Hidden Figures play a very important role in that they are able -- in a way that strict "histories" may not be -- to appeal to a large and heterogeneous audience and thus raise awarness of historical figures whose contributions have heretofore been unrecognized.

That said, even the stories of historical figures in films of this nature are in some degree fictionalized and specific details may be altered to support a narrative structure that audiences expect. Technical details pertaining to mathematics and engineering will not matter to many audience members as much as the human story, but even here I am given to understand that some details were altered or manufactured for the screen.

I enjoyed the film very much and remain excited that it succeeded in introducing more people to these women, their accomplishments, and their contributions. But we still need the methods and and products of historians to tell more complete stories. We continue to need stories about the specific technical developments that have conventionally comprised the history of computing and related technologies . But we also need stories about the human decisions that have determined technological developments.  This includes decisions to include or exclude people whose diverse knowledge, skills, experiences, and values may have helped shape those advancements. 

Max The Magnificent
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Re: Symbolism?
Max The Magnificent   6/23/2017 12:13:32 PM
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@perl_geek: "...You would hear them if you were inside the ship, assuming the relative velocities were low enough not to vapourise it..."

Sure -- but the viewpoint in this movie was flying a kilometer or so alongside the huge ship.

Still and all, it was a great film that I would totally recommend.

Max The Magnificent
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Re: Symbolism?
Max The Magnificent   6/23/2017 12:11:11 PM
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@Rick: "There must be a fun and lucratuve role in Hollywood for "engineering consultant" to such movies. Only those with slide rules need apply ;-)"

You would certainly think so. I remember that I used to see The Big Bang Theory on the TV guide but I never watched it because I thought it was just another physics program. It was only when I was reading an article in Time magazine that said they had a Physics Prof on the payroll to check all the equations on Sheldon's whiteboard that I discovered the program was a comedy LOL

I would love to have a job like this for movies -- just getting some of the basic stuff right would make a huge difference to the belivability of the movies. Ah well...

perl_geek
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Re: Symbolism?
perl_geek   6/23/2017 11:47:54 AM
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"you watch a spaceship plow through a metor storm ... and you hear the collisions LOL"

You would hear them if you were inside the ship, assuming the relative velocities were low enough not to vapourise it.

"There was a black guy who wanted to be an astronaut and knew he had no chance..."

I think it was mentioned in "The Right Stuff" that there was a black candidate in the astronaut program, but objectively, his performance fell below the cut-off.

Picking someone for a role in which failure in reasonably predictable circumstances can be lethal  is a considerable moral burden. Are you doing a marginal candidate any favours by relaxing standards? It's bad enough if individual survival is at risk; much worse if it could kill a whole crew.

If you are not familiar with the story of the Tuskegee Airmen, I recommend studying it. I have had the honour of meeting some of those gentlemen, and one conversation was especially interesting. When I asked how I felt about being put through a segregated program, he said it had been absolutely essential, and explained why.

Had they been put into an integrated program, biased instructors could have washed them out individually, and claimed that the universal failure rate was evidence of inferiority, (if anyone even noticed). If an entire class washed out, it would be obvious, and the failure would clearly be an instructors' problem.

As it was, they did a sufficiently good job that the bomber guys started asking for the "Little Friends" (fighter escort) with the red tails. That paved the way for later integration.

rick merritt
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Re: Symbolism?
rick merritt   6/23/2017 11:38:09 AM
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There must be a fun and lucratuve role in Hollywood for "engineering consultant" to such movies. Only those with slide rules need apply ;-)

Max The Magnificent
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Re: Symbolism?
Max The Magnificent   6/22/2017 4:56:16 PM
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@Elizabeth: "...I'm not suprised that the movie didn't get the math and engineering details right..."

As I noted in my recent My Future in Space column, in the movie Passengers, you watch a spaceship plow through a metor storm ... and you hear the collisions LOL

I've not seen the Figures movie, but I really want to.

Did you see the "Astronauts Wives" TV series a year or two ago? There was a black guy who wanted to be an astronaut and knew he had no chance -- I felt so bad for him because I knew this happened in the real world.

Thank God things have changed so much for the better, which is not to say that we don't still have a long way to go.

 

elizabethsimon
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Re: Symbolism?
elizabethsimon   6/22/2017 2:54:10 PM
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I read the book but have not yet seen the movie.

The book followed the group of black famale mathematicians from the inception of the group during WWII to the moon landing so it included much more background on the women involved. The focus of the book was on the perseverance of the women in the face of difficulties and discrimination rather than on the mathematics and engineering so I'm not suprised that the movie didn't get the math and engineering details right.

Your point about some of the problems solved in the movie being more in the engineering domain was actually true. One of the thigs pointed out in the book was the difficulty that these women had in making the transition into engineering despite their education and training which was comparable to many male engineers that they worked with.

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