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American Computer Scientists Grace Hopper, Margaret Hamilton Receive Presidential Medals of Freedom (fedscoop.com) 126

An anonymous reader quotes a report from FedScoop: President Barack Obama awarded Presidential Medals of Freedom to two storied women in tech -- one posthumously to Grace Hopper, known as the "first lady of software," and one to programmer Margaret Hamilton. Hopper worked on the Harvard Mark I computer, and invented the first compiler. "At age 37 and a full 15 pounds below military guidelines, the gutsy and colorful Grace joined the Navy and was sent to work on one of the first computers, Harvard's Mark 1," Obama said at the ceremony Tuesday. "She saw beyond the boundaries of the possible and invented the first compiler, which allowed programs to be written in regular language and then translated for computers to understand." Hopper followed her mother into mathematics, and earned a doctoral degree from Yale, Obama said. She retired from the Navy as a rear admiral. "From cell phones to Cyber Command, we can thank Grace Hopper for opening programming up to millions more people, helping to usher in the Information Age and profoundly shaping our digital world," Obama said. Hamilton led the team that created the onboard flight software for NASA's Apollo command modules and lunar modules, according to a White House release. "At this time software engineering wasn't even a field yet," Obama noted at the ceremony. "There were no textbooks to follow, so as Margaret says, 'there was no choice but to be pioneers.'" He added: "Luckily for us, Margaret never stopped pioneering. And she symbolizes that generation of unsung women who helped send humankind into space."
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American Computer Scientists Grace Hopper, Margaret Hamilton Receive Presidential Medals of Freedom

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  • but Computer Science is basically just applied mathematics. There were lots of textbooks to follow. Now that said, both of these women were much, much smarter than me :).
    • by Calydor ( 739835 ) on Wednesday November 23, 2016 @02:12AM (#53344687)

      Obligatory XKCD: https://xkcd.com/435/ [xkcd.com]

    • by Darinbob ( 1142669 ) on Wednesday November 23, 2016 @02:16AM (#53344701)

      The applying part can be hard. Remember, no handy libraries to fall back on, no frameworks, no pre-built hardware components, no idea what was possible or even plausible. After all, physics is just mathematics applied to the real world.

      • by sg_oneill ( 159032 ) on Wednesday November 23, 2016 @02:39AM (#53344749)

        Yep. Margret Hamilton basically wrote the code that got us to the moon by literally punching binary codes into hunreds if not thousands of feet of tape with a hole puncher and sticky tape, calculating how long each assembly instruction would take and working from there to build failsafes all throughout the code in case the inevitable malfunction happened. And those malfunctions came, and her code self corrected and avoided plunging astronauts to their deat. Brilliant stuff.

        • Re: (Score:2, Offtopic)

          by geekmux ( 1040042 )

          Yep. Margret Hamilton basically wrote the code that got us to the moon by literally punching binary codes into hunreds if not thousands of feet of tape with a hole puncher and sticky tape, calculating how long each assembly instruction would take and working from there to build failsafes all throughout the code in case the inevitable malfunction happened. And those malfunctions came, and her code self corrected and avoided plunging astronauts to their deat. Brilliant stuff.

          I find it sadly ironic that in the middle of you conveying this amazing story, your 2016 spellchecker code could not self correct...

        • Margret Hamilton basically wrote the code that got us to the moon by literally punching

          Bang! Zoom! Right to the moon!

        • From her Wikipedia page [wikipedia.org]:

          In 1960 she took an interim position at MIT to develop software for predicting weather on the LGP-30 and the PDP-1 computers...Hamilton wrote that at that time, computer science and software engineering were not yet disciplines; instead, programmers learned on the job with hands-on experience.

          Sounds like most "coders" today.

        • She did no such thing. A few hundred people did this, and she partly wrote a small part of it and partly managed the rest.
          • She did no such thing. A few hundred people did this, and she partly wrote a small part of it and partly managed the rest.

            It's odd, you know. There's a pattern here on slashdot. I mean most of the overt sexism has gone. Nonetheless, whenever there's a story like this there are always far, far more people coming out of the woodwork saying how the achievements are less than stated for a variety of plausible sounding reasons and yet those comments are few and far between when a guy is the subject.

            She lead the

            • I don't have to "deal" with the fact that she was a project lead - that is well-known fact (since 1965, at least, but not in the 1962-1965 period). But the claim that "[she] basically wrote the code that got us to the moon by literally punching binary codes into hunreds if not thousands of feet of tape with a hole puncher and sticky tape, calculating how long each assembly instruction would take and working from there to build failsafes all throughout the code in case the inevitable malfunction happened" is

              • You're being intellectually dishonest. You could have said "no, she didn't write all the code, she lead the team who wrote the lander code". That is a neutral eay of saying it. Instead you write this statement infused with negativity:

                and she partly wrote a small part of it and partly managed the rest.

                So yeah, that's your personal slant on it.

                Your mention of sexism is confusingly random.

                Except there is way more negativity and downplaying of achievements on threads about female luminaries versus male ones. S

                • It's not only the fact that she took over the software team about halfway through the project. It's that there almost wasn't a single correct claim in the sentence that I responded to. This is completely disconnected from her genitals; I would have responded like that to any blatant twisting of history (which I happen to be fond of).
                • She did no such thing. A few hundred people did this, and she partly wrote a small part of it and partly managed the rest.

                  I would hope that you would be gracious enough to realize when you make a mistake, but I somehow doubt it. K.S. actually came out and said she led (part of) the project. How is he not giving her credit for that?

              • Your mention of sexism is confusingly random.

                No, actually it isn't.

                Just take any other story of someone receiving an award for exceptional accomplishments.

                Would you, in every case, say, "no, sorry, they don't deserve that because they worked on a team"? (as I am sure you are aware, nobody works in a vacuum. Nobody accomplishes something completely by themselves. You are always standing on the shoulders of giants.)

                I am guessing that your answer would be no.

                If it is, then you have to ask why you did it in this case?

                Sexism is one possible answer. Therefo

                • I can only dispute things that I know are factually wrong, and in this case, I know that and thus disputed the claims that were wrong. And the reason is that I'm rather passionate about history, more so about history of technology, even more so about history of computation and information processing, and even even more so about Apollo guidance.
                  • I can only dispute things that I know are factually wrong, and in this case, I know that and thus disputed the claims that were wrong.

                    Except you went over and above mere disputing. I already said that and you chose to ignore it.

                    • by tomhath ( 637240 )
                      The original post by K. S. Kyosuke:

                      She did no such thing. A few hundred people did this, and she partly wrote a small part of it and partly managed the rest.

                      Please explain what part of that is "over and above mere disputing" or sexist. I don't see either.

                      The facts are the she was part of a very large team, and at some point in the project she managed some of the team members. That is all.

                    • From NASA:

                      At the start of the Apollo program, the onboard flight software needed to land on the moon didn't exist. Computer science wasn't in any college curriculum. NASA turned to mathematician Margaret Hamilton, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, to pioneer and direct the effort.

                      Compared to your "interpretation" of it:

                      and at some point in the project she managed some of the team members. That is all.

                    • At the start of the Apollo program, the onboard flight software needed to land on the moon didn't exist. Computer science wasn't in any college curriculum. NASA turned to mathematician Margaret Hamilton, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, to pioneer and direct the effort.

                      You see, this is exactly the kind of fact-free BS that irritates me. Here's a little reality check:

                      1) The AGC contract was indeed the first to be awarded [nasa.gov] during the Apollo program as a part of such, in mid-1961.

                      2) It was awarded to the MIT Instrumentation Laboratory.

                      3) The major reason why it was awarded to the MIT IL was the accomplishments of Charles Stark Draper with inertial guidance, given the fact that accurate, fully autonomous guidance for a two-week period was considered a necessity for the project

                    • It's curious that you called the text I swiped from a NASA page "fact free bullshit", then countered with uh... text from a NASA page.

                      And all the coolest bits came after 1965. She was running that development effort when all the people went to the moon.

            • Typical SJW, always looking at everything through the lens of *-isms. Someone posted nerd-bait, an obviously overblown statement claiming to be literally true. Someone else got nerd-sniped by the nerd bait. No sexism involved.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      There were no textbooks to follow for what they needed to do. The maths behind complex dynamic systems is completely different to the type of static equations that the textbooks were full of.

      • There was actually a textbook at the time already, written by Battin. It is true, though, that Klumpp et al. had to solve novel problems specifically regarding the landing.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      There are even more math textbooks today than then. But math is so diverse, even when restricted to practical applied mathematics, that there are still plenty of topics completely not covered by any textbook. A senior undergraduate thesis project can end up on a topic that is barely explored and maybe has only a handful of mentions in papers.

    • by serviscope_minor ( 664417 ) on Wednesday November 23, 2016 @03:52AM (#53344875) Journal

      Yep, no one ever came up with a breakthrough in computer science. It was all solved by the 1950s and written up in text books.

      What.

    • by fisted ( 2295862 )

      Hi! I make Firefox Plug-ins.

      No, you don't.

    • by Big Hairy Ian ( 1155547 ) on Wednesday November 23, 2016 @07:14AM (#53345355)
      If it wasn't for Grace Hopper I wouldn't have to do any debugging
    • but Computer Science is basically just applied mathematics.

      "Just" applied mathematics?

  • by Tablizer ( 95088 ) on Wednesday November 23, 2016 @02:39AM (#53344751) Journal

    Many criticized the idea compilers at the time for "dumbing down programming", fearing loss of understanding about the guts. Thus, the idea kind of languished until organizations realized they had to rewrite all their code for different brands or later models. The idea of a machine-agnostic middle language then became financially appealing to reduce recoding.

    Thus, it wasn't really the alleged human-friendly angle that made compilers marketable, but the portability of the code.

    • by silentcoder ( 1241496 ) on Wednesday November 23, 2016 @04:18AM (#53344949)

      Portability was a factor but not nearly on the level you describe - note how operating systems remained in machine code right until the end of the 1960s and nobody tried to write one in a compiled language until Kernighan and Ritchie. Consider also the language that Hopper created: Cobol. A language that remains universally hated by programmers, second only to BASIC in horribleness for a trained coder - yet it was incredibly successful. It was written to look like the kind of forms that business executives filled in regularly and to make it possible for them to write their own code.
      That never actually happened very much -but it did get executives to start seeing the value in programming and COBOL became a major industry. To this day there are giant systems at many corporations (especially banks) that are written in COBOL and programmers who can work the language (and stomach it) get paid very high salaries (not least because so few are willing to learn it - most of us would rather earn less than have to fill in forms designed for burocrats to write an algorithm).

      COBOL's problems aside - it's design does show one absolutely clear intention: user-friendliness. One could argue that trying to make programming userfriendly by analogy to burocracy was a wrong way to approach it, but you can't argue that, that was the intention. Hopper was clearly trying for userfriendliness and in that regard was way ahead of her time.
      She was also involved in numerous other groundbreaking things. My critique of COBOL should in no way be read as disparaging to it's creator - on the contrary, it was a major breakthrough and while COBOL itself was a terrible language the concept of a compiler that could turn a human-readable text into code would change computing forever. Portability was just one of the many advantages that came out of it. Hopper definitely belongs in the same class as Ada Lovelace or Alan Turing as one of the principle drivers of the computing revolution.

      • nobody tried to write one in a compiled language until Kernighan and Ritchie

        That's simply not true. MULTICS was written in PL/1, the B5000 (1961) had an OS written in ALGOL60. Writing operating systems in high-level languages was common by the time UNIX came along, it was only rare on the very cheapest computers (where UNIX ran), and UNIX was written in assembly until the PDP-11 port.

        • by silentcoder ( 1241496 ) on Wednesday November 23, 2016 @06:51AM (#53345293)

          Yet Multics wasn't portable and when both Honeywell stopped making the hardware it basically died.

          >Writing operating systems in high-level languages was common by the time UNIX came along
          But writing them portably was not - Unix's single greatest contribution was proving that you can write a portable operating system, every aspect of it's design contributes to that - not just writing it in a high level language but breaking it down into a group of loosely coupled tiny programs that communicated using a simple (the simplest possible in fact) interface, treating everything as the simplest object (a file) - the whole thing was fundamentally designed for portability. Pre PDP-11 port versions were experiments with the idea, it wasn't unix until it was written in C.

          • But writing them portably was not - Unix's single greatest contribution was proving that you can write a portable operating system

            Not really. The first 'port' of UNIX involved rewriting it in a completely different language. Subsequent ports involved massive rewrites of large portions. It wasn't until around 3BSD - long after Bell Labs had ceased to be the driving force behind it - that the pmap abstractions were introduced. The only reason that UNIX was portable was that it had such low hardware requirements: it didn't take advantage of any complex features and so you could implement something that provided the same interfaces on

      • by _merlin ( 160982 )

        COBOL really isn't such a bad language. It has some nice features, like native variants that map very well onto hierarchical data like XML. The biggest problem with COBOL is shitty COBOL programmers. The language makes it easy for idiots to make code that doesn't crash, so bad programmers can get poorly written code into production. Java has much the same problem, it isn't that Java's a bad language per se, just that it makes life too easy for bad programmers, so you get stuff that uses too much memory,

        • COBOL really isn't such a bad language. It has some nice features, like native variants that map very well onto hierarchical data like XML.

          Better than S-exps?

      • Of course, if you didn't like COBOL, there was always Fortran to fall back on. An engineer's wet dream, total nightmare and mystery for the rest. Or there was Assembly Language for the narcissistic masochists: "this inscrutably undecypherable code is mine, mine, mine, even if it kills me with a terminal ulcer".

      • by plopez ( 54068 )

        COBOL, Fortran, and LISP were very much version 1.0 . no one had ever done anything like it. Mistakes were made but through them it allowed much better languages to be developed Like VB, based on BASIC which borrowed syntax from both Fortran and COBOL. Or Python which adopted Fortran's white space significance three years after Fortran 90 discarded it.

        But seriously, they broke ground in a new area with COBOL and Fortran. An attempt to fix Fortran and COBOL resulted in Pascal which then led to UCSD Pascal wh

        • An attempt to fix Fortran and COBOL resulted in Pascal

          You left out Algol and PL/I ("fixing" Fortran and COBOL, roughly respectively.)

          • Algol was amazing for its time, for it was designed in the late 50's yet has most of the procedural features we use and take for granted today, such as nested blocks instead of (just) go to's, and made a distinction between modifiable and read-only parameters (similar to by-ref versus by-value).

            I hope that team gets a nice award also.

            It was never really a commercial success, but influenced Pascal, Ada, VB, C, and all of C's descendants (Java, JavaScript, Php, C#, etc.)

            Perhaps if the licensing were more flex

      • by Tablizer ( 95088 )

        note how operating systems remained in machine code right until the end of the 1960s and nobody tried to write one in a compiled language until

        An OS and a domain application are very different animals. Efficiency and memory usage are usually a much bigger relative factor for an OS compared to a domain app. Systems software, like OS's, file systems, drivers, and databases, typically needs to be more "tight" per machine resources. Thus, their code was hand-crafted for a longer period in history.

        Cobol. A lang

        • I said COBOL was bad for programmers - I never said it was bad.
          Which part of "major breakthrough" and "way ahead of her time" didn't you understand ?

          • by Tablizer ( 95088 )

            I said COBOL was bad for programmers - I never said it was bad.

            Quote: "and while COBOL itself was a terrible language the concept of a compiler [was good]..."

            And the rest of the tone looks like you are trashing COBOL in general.

            "Major breakthrough" and "ahead of [its] time" are not necessarily compliments of COBOL as a language.

            The Wright brothers' first airplane was practically junk as far as the utility of an airplane is concerned, but it WAS a "breakthrough" and "ahead of its time". Your characterizing o

            • My intended meaning was somewhere in between. I think COBOL was fantastic at what it was designed for - I just think it was the wrong thing to design something for. But I don't hold that against Hopper in the least, she was breaking entirely new ground - it's impossible to do that and know the best direction to take - by definition if you go into an entirely new field you're going to make missteps which other can ONLY avoid BECAUSE you made them.

  • by myid ( 3783581 ) on Wednesday November 23, 2016 @06:05AM (#53345211)

    Here's the list [whitehouse.gov] of the latest Medal of Freedom recipients.

    That web page says

    The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the Nation’s highest civilian honor, presented to individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.

    I'd like to see medals given to people who routinely save lives, like doctors, nurses, and emergency responders. If not the Medal of Freedom, then some other medal.

    Also people who bring us our food and water, like farmers and water utility workers. We can live a matter of days without water, and weeks without food. So farmers and water utility workers are super important. But when's the last time you heard of a farmer getting a medal for producing a good crop, or a water utility worker getting a medal for supplying clean water?

    Also caring teachers in the inner cities should get medals.

    And people who risk their lives to rescue others in need, like these people [cbslocal.com].

    Who else should get a medal?

    • by Anonymous Coward
      Do you understand that part of the rationale for awarding medals is -uniqueness-? For going 'above and beyond' the typical? For a person having an outsized impact on the -whole country- or the -whole world-? Just because a job is important, if millions of people do it every day, you don't single one of them out for a medal. And a 'medal for all the farmers' is kind of a pointless gesture.
    • We need to ask the question: how does this advance the cause of social justice?

      If it doesn't, then why do it? Go on to the next, more deserving person.

    • Also caring teachers in the inner cities should get medals.

      These are the true heroes of our society. They take the unwanted spawn of the dregs of society and help them become caring and educated individuals that contribute positively to society. Without these people, our entire country would look like Los Angeles in the 1980s. Constant internecine warfare.

      I know many of those teachers will never receive anything more than a word of thanks from some of the children that they helped, but be assured that *I* personally deeply respect what you are doing.

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