Kids these days, not knowing the name Grace Hopper

The guys at Hackaday dug up a video of the late Commodore Grace Hopper (the rank is now called Rear Admiral, but the rank of Commodore just seems appropriate for a computer science pioneer) and the poster admitted he’d never heard of her before. The resulting discussion was rather… interesting.

Commodore Hopper was on television a lot when I was a kid. A Commodore or Rear Admiral is equivalent to a one-star general in other services. A woman in that rank wasn’t something you saw every day in the 1980s. A woman attaining that rank at an age older than Ronald Reagan was very unusual. Being all of those things and one of the most accomplished computer scientists in the world was more unusual still. And on top of that, as you can see from watching old video of her, she was incredibly articulate.

For a time, any time there was an excuse to put her on television, someone did. She defied every stereotype in the world, and it made for good television.

My dad had little use for computers, but he knew who she was. I knew who she was because I was interested in computers.

What I find interesting is the amount of energy some people put into justifying not knowing who she is. “I like technology. I don’t like history.” Stuff like that.

Well, I don’t like math, but there are times I just can’t avoid using it. There are some levels of math I don’t need in order to do my job, but I can’t work with computers and completely avoid math.

I’d completely forgotten about Commodore Hopper’s nanosecond. I think I need to make myself one, because it’s still an effective illustration. In my job, there’s a push for consolidation, like there’s a push to consolidate all over the IT industry. In my world, sometimes that works splendidly. But frequently in my world, there are too many nanoseconds between where data lives and central Ohio, where they want to house the computers that would process that data and then send it back.

Normally I’d state that in terms of latency and bandwidth, but yanking a foot-long piece of wire out of my desk drawer illustrates the point much more clearly. Computers are much faster today than they were when Commodore Hopper died in 1992, let alone when she was actively programming them, but the computers of today still have to live under the same laws of physics.

I may have a lot of clients processing weather data. So a lot of people might be able to save a lot of money by processing all of it in central Ohio. But that round-trip to central Ohio might make that weather data a lot less useful by the time it finally arrives at its destination. Depending on the data, processing it a few feet away is worth the extra cost and the duplicate equipment.

Being able to use Commodore Grace Hopper’s nanosecond improves my credibility. Being able to cite it improves my credibility even more, seeing as she died when I was still in high school.

One thought on “Kids these days, not knowing the name Grace Hopper

  • February 28, 2012 at 3:24 pm
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    They called her Amazing Grace and Wikipedia has an entry for her.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grace_hopper
    ….
    “In 1946, when Hopper was released from active duty, she joined the Harvard Faculty at the Computation Laboratory where she continued her work on the Mark II and Mark III. Operators traced an error in the Mark II to a moth trapped in a relay, coining the term bug. This bug was carefully removed and taped to the log book. Stemming from the first bug, today we call errors or glitch’s [sic] in a program a bug.”
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Software_bug

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