Books: Hidden Figures

June 17, 2017

I don’t remember a lot of details of watching the first moon landing, in July 1969. Mostly I remember being bored with how long it took before they finally opened the door of the lunar module. I don’t actually know if my memories of scenes from Mission Control are from that night, or from movies I’ve seen since then. But my impression of Mission Control is of a bunch of men sitting at banks of computers.

White men, in white shirts, figuring out whatever needed to be figured out to get three men to the moon and back. It never occurred to me, until reading Hidden Figures recently, that a lot of the work behind the scenes had been done by black women.

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Computer security road bumps

June 28, 2010

Computer security programs are a great thing. There are unscrupulous people out there who would like nothing better than to access your computer or the information on it, or simply to mess it up because they can. With the right security in place, you can access the internet, do your banking online, download software or other files, play online games, do work for a company in another state without ever visiting their office, and much more – all without worrying about the viruses, worms, and other malware that is out there.

Like physical security, however, it comes with a price, and not just in the dollars spent on the software. If you keep your front door locked, you can’t tell a friend, “Just come on in, I’ll be in the kitchen working.” If you lock your car, you deter thieves, but you risk locking your keys in the car. (I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve done that. Fortunately I’ve never done it with the engine running. But I did once block the gas pump at the gas station for nearly an hour because I couldn’t move my car until my husband got home from work and brought my extra keys.) 

One of my tasks at work is to process requests made by our users to access websites that have been blocked by corporate security filters. I have an old laptop issued to me just for this purpose, to check out the sites people are trying to access. I don’t log onto the company network, so I bypass all corporate security and can access any internet site – but whatever malware the laptop may pick up can’t be transmitted back into the network.

Often the blocked sites are search portals that contain spyware or other malware. Unlike search engines such as google, they provide little if any useful information – but lots and lots of advertisements. I do my best to find the site the user really wanted, send a link to it, and explain why the blocked site was blocked. Other times the request is to download a file, and I either download it myself and send it to the user or pass the request along to our helpdesk.

Occasionally, though, I get a more unusual request. A week or two ago, a request came through to access a site tagged as “pornography.” I got out my laptop, accessed the site – and hoped nobody would walk by and see what was on my screen. I quickly closed the laptop, and tried to decide how to phrase my response to the user. Finally I settled for a bland “Are you requesting this for business purposes?”

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Wonderful wetware

October 29, 2008

I learned a new word today. I think I had encountered it at some time in the past, but had forgotten it. Now I’m pretty sure I’ll remember.

I’m studying a book on Workflow in the 2007 Microsoft Office System. That also happens to be the book’s title – technical books tend to have boring names that leave no mystery about what is inside. This book does have at least one surprise, however – it’s very readable. It’s written in conversational, plain English, with occasional references to popular culture (such as HAL 9000 – though I suppose to the younger generation that might be a mysterious reference).

But then in a paragraph about how long workflows take when they involve human beings (which all of them do, in the context of this book), I came upon this sentence:
Let’s face it, from the computer’s point of view, wetware is slow.
Clearly, wetware has something to do with people. (Although my first thought was of glassware used at a wet bar – which has to do with people but not much to do with information processing, especially when they have consumed quite a bit there at the bar.)

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Top 10 reasons to learn binary

April 16, 2008

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I have never needed to read or write binary code in my work as an IT professional. Neither do my colleagues, so far as I know, though we all know it is the native language of the machines that define our jobs. And most of us, at least, understand the jokes that go with it.

1. The classic binary joke is one that I first encountered as the tagline in a co-worker’s email (I have since seen it on posters, T-shirts, and coffee mugs):

There are 10 kinds of people in the world – those who understand binary and those who don’t.

If you’re scratching your head, keep reading – I’ll provide a link to a help you out.

10. Yesterday I saw this diagram taped to another co-worker’s cubicle wall:

Binary Sudoku

 As I have recently become a fan of Sudoku (I spent my birthday money buying a handheld electronic Sudoku game that I had been eying for months), I really smiled at that one.

If you have no idea what I’m talking about, or know a little but would like to know more, this is a pretty good basic primer on binary, from

IT Gender Gap

April 15, 2008

As an IT professional and a woman, I was naturally quite interested in a link my sister emailed me today, to an article bemoaning the low numbers of women in IT. I was disappointed, however – while attempting to counter some inaccurate perceptions regarding the IT field, it seems to create or perpetuate some of its own.

There is, no doubt, a gender disparity. It was one of the first things I noticed when I interviewed for my current job. Coming from a small company where I constituted the entire IT department, I had little idea what the typical large IT department looked like. As my guide did not take me through the rows of cubicles, I couldn’t get a clear idea of how many women there were, but of those people I saw moving about most were men. (Once I started working here, I mentioned this to one of the women. She suggested that the women had been busy working, while the men had been up and about to get coffee, take a smoke break, or otherwise avoid serious effort.)

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