Wednesday, February 09, 2011
Overheard on Tributes to WWII's female 'computers'


COMMENT OF THE DAY: "In spite of the downer of how the women computers were ignored by their male superiors, this is an uplifting story. I am surprised, however, [filmmaker LeAnn] Erikson did not know about them. They are mentioned in Richard Feynman's 'Surely you are joking, Mr. Feynman.' In fact, the term 'computer bugs' comes from that time -- they literally had to vacuum out the dead bugs that messed up their computer cards." --mcmo2


Rediscovering WWII's female 'computers'


LeAnn Erickson was interviewing sisters Shirley Blumberg Melvin and Doris Blumberg Polsky when the twins mentioned a job they'd held during World War II: Female "computers." As in a job title, not a piece of technology. Besides all the resulting yakking back and forth about where a woman's place is and whether gender equality is still a big deal, etc., it was fun to read about people's personal stories and memories. mtrisler said, "My aunt graduated from Wellesley College in the early 40s with a degree in math. She joined the Air Force and plotted trajectories for rockets. She is 89 years old and is now in a nursing home. I have printed out this article and will read it to her. How wonderful that the work these women did is being recognized." JeanneS5 said, "My mother did this! She didn't program the computer; she sat in a room above it and did more math with the results (she was a human computer)."


LAB1 was surprised by the comments on this story, saying times have changed and the "Loose Lips Sink Ships" mentality was big during wartime, adding that people had to endure challenges that are very different than today. "My own parents both worked in the war industry (dad was medically disqualified from active service) and they did work that is now declassified. HOWEVER, both died not having told me exactly what they did. They only spoke of the wonderful comraderie they enjoyed during those days where they worked and of the true sacrifices the people on the homefront made to bring WWII to its successful conclusion. Today, with all of the communications access, the United States' strategies in any conflict are at risk for the opponent to see, study and counter. Wikileaks is a prime example. Before you criticize these people, try to imagine yourselves in the position in which they found themselves. Depression to rationing, austerity to some level of prosperity. I doubt the younger generation of Americans could do what this generation did. They truly are the Greatest Generation."


As for the future of women and computing, living4life said, "Don't worry too much about women. They play video games and use tech just as much as boys now, so once this generation gets out of high school (and university), you will see most of the differences between boys and girls in the tech industry pretty much become zero." But ndTimmy wrote, "I doubt it. I graduated recently from college in a science major and there was about 4 women in a class of 50 men." dangster said, "Girls playing video games and using tech now is no indication that they'll find careers in the tech industry. The ratio of women to men in tech is not going to suddenly improve over the next decade. What we need is a change in attitude towards learning math and science, and eradicating the stereotypes that dissuade women from going into technology. I agree with ndTimmy. I graduated 6 years ago with a degree in computer science, and women comprised about 20 percent of the major, similar to most other engineering majors at my school. Not much has changed since then, and I don't see that percentage improving anytime soon."


Hawaii pilot spots badly injured whale


Gerry Charlebois, who takes student pilot/tourists for coastal excursions in ultralight aircraft, spotted an injured humpback whale from the air Monday in shallow water near Kauai. Commenters debated weighty issues such as the value of human vs. animal life, the appropriateness of euthanasia and the whale's place in the food chain. We received lots of thoughtful commentary (and an occasional comment from folks like the troll). Some debated natural selection versus man's intrusion on the natural world. There was also some talk about whether the photo was a hoax, but the majority of the commenters thought it was real.


Linda wrote, "There is no need to kill it. It will provide food for much of the sea life. This is a normal process. When we try to get involved we just tend to make matters worse. I don't blame the boats. I'm sure nobody decided to run this poor guy over. Now mother nature should be allowed to take its course and feed the others. We need to just respectfully stay out of the way." JimmyD said, "Sure there's no need to kill it, but it would be best for the whale if it were put out of it's miserly instantly. It will still end up as crab food, the only difference is it will not suffer for days. Probably a moot point anyway, as the whale hasn't been spotted recently per the article. Hope it's at peace." kado responded: "Linda, seems obvious but, here goes: If you kill the whale to release it from its continued misery, it will still provide food for birds and sea life, as long as you don't poison it. Ichthyologists: I think this is a good time to begin establishing a method for euthanising a large whale."


Denizen Kate said, "Mr. Charlebois calls this one of the most disturbing sights he's ever seen, so why is he eager to go back and look for it again? I should think one disturbing sighting would be enough. Let nature take its course for this poor creature, no need to gawk if you can't do anything to help. Seems morbid to me."


Art said, "To deny the natural process of a dying whale into the cycle of the life of the parasites and sharks that would dine on it, perhaps, would equally deny the shark, that also has as much domain as nature gives it, a freedom to exist in nature! Just because the whale is warm blooded and can sing, does not mean that the shark is any less a passenger on our little spaceship we call Earth."


Why more Americans don't travel abroad


Whether because of a lack of vacation time or a shortage of cash, this article takes on the reasons why American's aren't as big on international travel as those in some other countries. Commenters were all over the place, offering passionate explanations, whatever their perspective. It's hard to pick leading threads, but we'll give it a shot. There's plenty enough to see right here in the United States, many wrote. RT06 said, "It is a matter of convenience. The U.S. spans four time zones with desirable destinations in each. Road trips are as American as apple pie." dougt1 said, "I've been to Europe twice and Central America several times, but there is so much U.S. attractions that want to visit here in the U.S. that I just can't justify traveling around the world until all the U.S. place are done. Vegas, DC, NY, SF, LA, New Orleans and Miami are all a must see. I wouldn't go exclusive world traveling until you've checked these off the list."


For some, it's about politics. spydermax said, "Two reasons: Americans don't have the leisure and paid vacation time like Europeans. Also Americans listen to all the right-wing mythology about how everything and everywhere outside of the USA is dangerous, inferior, or just not worthy of our interest." jcondon26 said about the article, "You missed the real reason U.S. citizens don't travel abroad. Foreign countries take all the U.S. aid they can get, but look down on any US citizen traveling in their country and insist we respect their customs and beliefs when we are in their country. But if they come here, they expect us to accept their customs and behaviors without question. The only area I'll visit is the Caribbean and some areas of Mexico. The rest can go to hell."


Finally, there were some that like to travel abroad. Rick1948 said, "Traveling outside the United States is 100 times better than traveling inside the US. There's more interesting things to see, travel is cheaper once you get away from the domestic US airlines, and the people in foreign countries, with very few exceptions, treat you as if they're glad you're there -- rather than treating you like a walking paycheck for them. Some of my fondest memories of, for example, England, were sitting in pubs talking to older gentlemen who were in England during WWII. Their stories about the skies being black with formations of bombers, how the people coped with air raids -- all incredibly interesting. Americans don't travel a lot because it puts them out of their comfort zone -- different foods, languages, customs, etc. They miss a lot." In the words of someonenyc, "The world is big and beautiful. You only get to live once. See it, experience it, embrace it. Be a bird."


Do you feel your views align with these commenters' thoughts? Post a comment below or sound off on video.


Compiled by the moderation staff. Some comments edited for length or clarity.

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