Tag Archives: Technology

Hidden Figures – The Story of the Black Women Mathematicians at NASA

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The whole family went to see Hidden Figures today. The story of the black women mathematicians who helped American win the Space Race back in the 60’s. It follows the lives of three black women “computers.” Back before digital computers were used, humans who were held the jobs named “computers” did the calculations for lots of scientific endeavors.

The movie is set in Langley, Virginia, part of the South, and the computers were divided into white and “colored” groups. The movie follows three of the women. One who was the the supervisor of the colored group but did not receive the title nor the pay of a supervisor, another who had a crucial role in calculating the trajectory of John Glenn’s trajectory out of orbit back to earth, and another women who although had advanced engineering degrees, was seeking to become the first women with the title “Engineer” hired at NASA.

The movie follows these women as they deal with and overcome the petty and smothering stupidity of segregation and discrimination against black people and women. It reminds me of how far we have come and it also reminds me how far we have left to go.
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The movie is set in 1961 and what strikes me is that I entered engineering school in 1973 a mere 12 years later. By then we had we had big mainframe IBM computers and we had learned the Fortran programming language in high school. In 1973 all the engineering students still used slide rules and much of the classes were about how to use them in engineering calculations. A few of the “rich kids” had calculators. By the end of my Sophomore year, nobody used slide rules and everybody used scientific calculators.

Fast forward to the mid 1980’s and I was building pipelines in Mississippi and Louisiana. I dealt with lots of local people while buying right of way from landowners and arranging for contractors to build the line and dealing with various state and county officials in getting necessary permits. By that time black people had the right to vote and the “colored” and “white” restrooms and water fountains were a thing of the past but race seemed uppermost on man people’s minds. I’d get leading questions from people on first meeting them where they were trying to determine what my attitudes were towards the subject and I’d get baited on various subjects. I heard some outrageous things I’ll tell you.

And we have come a long ways and we have a long ways left to go. I get on facebook and there is still a lot of racisim out there in my opinion.  Most of is coded and obtuse and a lot of it is denial that there is still a problem but it is there.  Sometimes I think we are in danger of sliding backwards to the bad old days. We are also in danger of thinking that we have the race issue solved. We don’t, we have come a long ways and we have a ways to go.

I used to think that there was some sort of relationship between technology and social justice. In other words as we progressed technologically then all these smart people would all insist on doing the right thing. I’ve lost faith in that as we see countries like China and Russia progress technologically and expand their middle class but they remain repressive in a different manner. They don’t threaten people with torture any longer, they threaten them with losing their jobs.

Anyway, I’ll get off my soapbox and say that this is a great movie. It is based on a book that I have ordered from the library.

 

Solar Impulse 2 in Tulsa – The Future is Now

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The big news in Tulsa this week is that the Solar Electric Airplane, Solar Impulse 2, flying from Abu Dahbi around the world landed at our local airport a few days ago. American Airlines had a huge hanger available and they let the plane park there until the weather clears up. The owners of the plane made it available for public viewing for two days. So of course I had to go since there was no admission charge.

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The airplane is amazing. It uses only solar electric power, with batteries, and can take off on its own power. It can fly for days at a time. It is about 74 feet long and has a wingspan of 236 feet yet its fully loaded weight is 5100 pounds. It has four engines, each of which can generate 17.4 horsepower. Its maximum service altitude is 27,000 feet but with supplemental oxygen for the pilot the aircraft can go up to 39,000 feet. I got all these stats from wikipedia because teasing it out of the plane’s website was kind of hard.

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I figured out what the term “Cavernous Hangar” means. This thing is huge!!

The plane is amazing piece of engineering. It is so light and can generate enough power from solar panels and with the batteries on board it can fly pretty much indefinitely. It has a crew of only one person in an unheated and unpressurized cockpit. It uses an autopilot to fly when the pilot is sleeping. The project has a support staff of about 60 people a bunch of whom were in Tulsa. The control center is in Monaco. The spend a considerable amount of time plotting routes that avoid weather. The plane cannot take very much weather. 

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The plane’s owners intend the project to be a demonstration of the feasibility of solar power and its practicality and I must say the demonstration is impressive.

I was most interested in how the thing took off. Surely I thought it was pulled by a truck or something but no, as the above video shows it takes off under its own power.

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As interesting as the takeoff is I thought the landing was a very skillful and precise affair. It has to be perfect.

And a video about the landing in Tulsa. They are trying to get through tornado alley as fast as they can.

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Leaving the hangar we got a glimpse of the Solar Impulse’s support aircraft, a funky looking Russian made Ilyushin II-76 heavy cargo carrier. According to my good friends at Wikipedia it can carry 40 tons of cargo a distance of 2700 miles and land on a dirt runway. I found it almost as amazing as they Solar Impulse.

Installing Update

I’ve changed my routine a slight bit on my Wednesday night running after work routine.

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Before I go run I drive out to far west Tulsa, out past the refineries, over the tracks, and across the levee to the Brewery to refill my growler before I go running. They actually put up little tiny signs up. That’s it! It’s ruined now. Boring guys like me will be saying “Oh, yeah I used to go out there before that had signs up.” It was a lot better back then.

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I got delayed on my way back.

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I managed to get back to the river before it got dark.

While I was walking a little before my run here came some skateboarders. Some of these guys are quite good, They add a little pizzazz to the River Parks scene.

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It was time to start running and my watch told me no, not now, it was too busy “Installing Update.” And then it hit me, when do I get an update? Everything gets an update these days, phones, computers, ipads. How come I don’t get one? What about you, do get an update?

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Well, my watch got updated and then it graciously allowed me to start running. I soon forgot my latest obsession and waddled down the trail.

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And off I went.

Do you have a watch that gets updated? I didn’t think I did until the other day.

Staying Comfortable the Neo-Luddite Way

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Old Al Gore wouldn’t be happy with me. I got rid of our fancy schmancy programmable thermostat and replaced it with an old school unit with a rotary dial. I put the programmable unit in about ten years ago or so and have hated it every day since. It was hard to program, chewed up batteries, and was hard to read.  Our lifestyle is not really programmable. We are home when we are home and gone when we are gone. Not really anything that can be programmed so we have had in manual mode almost the whole decade.

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That wasn’t much fun either when we were trying to raise or lower the temperature we’d press the up or down button and the thing had to think about it for a while then make a high pitched whine and then move the setting up and down way too fast so it took a while to get it set where you wanted. Plus the lighting was dim in the hallway and it was hard to read.

So now we just move the dial to the left or right. I feel that we just made a huge step forward.

Anyway, sorry about that folks. Can somebody pick up the extra carbon load we are going to have with this thing? Class, class, anyone?

Have you ever gone backward in technology in order to move forward? Tell us about it.