Category Archives: technology

Forget Kim Kardashian, Alice Bowman is a Name that Should be Famous

When I was a kid, I never learned very few names of women who contributed mightily to our nation and the world. Now, as an adult I am learning for the first time the names of women who were major factors in the world of science and technology and literature, art, engineering, architecture, medicine, research and every other field area. Unfortunately, our own children also learned little of the contributions of women to our world. Hopefully that will change for our grandchildren.

So, while many of us can probably rattle off the names of the astronauts and ever some of the men in mission control for the Gemini, Apollo and Space Shuttle missions, we probably think that there aren’t any women in these field areas (unless they’re fetching coffee or designing cute flight suits).

Well, here’s a name to know: Alice Bowman. If your kids and grandkids aren’t learning her name in school, you need to speak to someone in your school district. And if you don’t know her name, let me share with you. Alice Bowman is the first woman Mission Operations Manager and she led the mission that has glimpsed the edge of our solar system. And she’s not done yet.

Rather than write about her, I thought I’d post this interview with her. Hopefully you’ll read it yourself and to your kids and to your grandkids. And hopefully one day, they’ll be so many women in science and technology that they will be known for their achievements and not for their gender.



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Filed under science, technology, Uncategorized

Speak to Me

i have discovered another new pleasure. i’m probably one of the last people to have actually begun listening regularly to audio books, but i find that i have quickly become addicted. our daughter, e, has been listening to audio books for quite some time – she is a person who has spent a lot of time touring on busses while performing in drum corps or more recently, driving to and from her job so audio books are a godsend. she actually bought the subscription service because it is immensely more cost effective than paying for individual books. i’m not quite there yet, and i have to admit that there is a part of me that still feels obliged to make sure authors are compensated.

i started listening to audio books by accident when i was downloading the brief and wonderous life of oscar wao by junot diaz and i clicked on the option for the ebook and audio book combination instead of just the ebook. i could have cancelled the transaction, but i thought i would read some of the book and then listen to some of the book just to see if i like it. well, i was so enraptured with the audio version of the book that i never went back to reading the text of the book.

i’m glad this was the first novel i listened to because diaz’s writing is so lyrical and story so startling that it transports you sometimes to a place you want to go and sometimes to a place from which you want to quickly escape. on more than one day i had to take a pause and clear the story out of my head before i got out of the car.

sadly, i finished the book and went on an all-out search for another. it was hard to imagine how some of the bestsellers would sound compared to diaz’s writing so i decided to search for another literary book. i’m not a really fast reader of literary books since i tend to mull over words and sentence construction and ponder a bit. i looked at a lot of classics and as tempting as they were, the reviews of the narration were often bad. there’s some kind of crime in hiring an unskilled actor read extraordinary writing.

i finally decided to download wise blood by flannery o’conner. i always loved flannery o’conner’s writing but hearing it read is equally as satisfying, maybe even moreso because this narrator is very good.

to spend my drive time being submerged in the story and the language and vivid description contained in these kinds of books is extraordinary. i find myself repeating some of the most exquisite lines out loud. by the time i get to work or home from work, i feel as though i’m in an entirely new world, on in which the ordinariness of just another day has been transformed.

i also find myself positively influenced in other ways like using a broader vocabulary, an enhanced descriptive ability and suddenly being able to notice more interesting characters around me than just mundane stereotypes.

trust me, i’m still reading books – often two at a time – but listening to a book, especially and wonderfully written book, has been a transformative experience for me.

it’s commonly said that “you are what you eat”, and i believe the same is true for what we listen to and watch. well, I still watch some junk tv but the balance has been tipped.

fyi, the app i’m using is audible
but i know that books are also available on itunes.

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Filed under books, communication, technology

Cyclical Failure

did you hear about the guy that shot up his computer? he had just had enough, took it outside and shot it full of bullet holes. reminds me of that scene from the movie office space where they take the printer out into a field and bust it up.

though we’re not getting out the shotgun anytime soon, c and i are in a cycle of appliance deaths these days.

that’s the cycle where you bought new appliances around the same time the last time you bought them and now they’re all going bad around the same time… the choice is always whether to repair or replace, but it’s a guessing game as to how much the repair will cost and what percentage of a new purchase you’re willing to part with to repair of an old product.

the first one to go in our recent cycle was the clothes dryer. well, it was pretty much a no brainer that we would replace since we’d had the same dryer since 1986. we did have it repaired once in all those years and i remember that it was about 20 years ago and cost about $100. i would say that makes for an excellent track record. the popular meme is that new stuff is just not made like the old stuff. well, maybe not, but the new stuff certainly has a lot of new technology that makes it a whole lot better than a lot of the old stuff. our new dryer is nowhere near as hard on our clothes or our energy bill and it even has a steam feature that you can use to wipe out the wrinkles in the load you forgot and left in there for days. and as an extra bonus, having to make way for a new dryer forced us to have to completely clean up the entire area surrounding the dryer and toss out a lot of old stuff (like a pair of crutches or some calendars from 2000).

then my computer went berserk and you know the rest of that story. in that case the repair seemed like a better choice.

last night it was our range. c and i had been suspicious for a while that the oven was not working properly since there were times when it never came up to the programmed temperature or it seemed to take an unreasonable amount of time to get to temperature. last night it didn’t want to heat to more than 100 degrees and so we began the debate as to whether to repair or replace. you should know that c and i are both good cooks and bakers and people who strain the limits of a kitchen appliance. that said, we have also spent years dreaming of a larger high end range. problem is, that high end range will not fit in the space we currently have. it would be fairly easy to enlarge the space but then we would have to install a larger range hood to vent the range which would involve even more renovation and then… you know where this is all going.

in the end, we bought a new, higher end range with a lot more features than our old one. even in the 12 years since we bought the last range there have been enormous changes and upgrades that make cooking a lot easier.

i’m taking mental inventory and keeping an eye out for what might go next but so far the appliances that are left are either newer or not going to be replaced at all once they self-destruct.

and damn glad i don’t have a pacemaker.

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Filed under advice, computers, technology

Brain Work

i never used to worry about brain cells, but now it seems that if you’re not busy tapping away at puzzles on your phone or tablet you need to be worried about your brain function. like i don’t have enough to worry about already…

i’m not much for games, especially when i have to shell out money to play games and shell out a lot of money to play “brain games”. i tried some of those free on-line games but they just didn’t interest me enough to continue playing. to me, just figuring something out or learning something new is enough of a game. i guess i’m just one of those people who has to have a purpose for play.

as i read more about the concept of “use it or lose it” to improve brain function, i discovered that it wasn’t so much that it has to be math games or even games, it’s just that you have to use your brain to learn something you don’t already know. apparently you can even get benefit from just watching educational videos.

okay, so i could just watch educational videos, but i kind of do that anyway. i was searching for some other way to improve brain function and improve myself. one thing i did was buy spanish language cds to play in the car and attempt to learn spanish. it’s very difficult. funny things is that when i’m asked to respond in spanish, the first thing that comes to mind is german since i studied german for 6 years. but i’m going to keep on going because i figure if i can memorize all the words to some dumb pop song by repetition, i can probably pick up some spanish.

but, i found another activity that enhances my brain function and contributes something to the world and to future generations. it’s working on transcriptions of hard copy documents for the smithsonian institution.

the smithsonian is attempting to transcribe every hard copy document in their archives so that they can be electronically searchable. the word daunting doesn’t even begin to describe this task. so, the smithsonian is asking for volunteers to help with the process.

i hear you… you’re asking how typing can improve anything in your brain. first, take a look at the material listed as projects – it might seem as though you could mindlessly tap that out in a hour but look at the actual written pages and you’ll see how difficult these transcriptions can be. and how fascinating.

the first document i worked on was a field guide of a specific coastal area of maine. the detail that the naturalist included was both tedious and spectacular. consider that when this was written there was no such thing as photography so the naturalist had to account for every sight he saw: plants, water, rock formations, rock composition, etc. – all in painstaking detail.

the second document i worked on was the diary of the daughter from a farming family. i was interested at the word diary, but found that it was less of a personal diary as it was a detailed recording of each day’s activities along with the whereabouts of every individuals associated with the farm. unfortunately, it was less about the mechanics of the dairy farm, which was why i chose the project.

right now i’m working on the log book of negatives for all photos taken of every item or object in the smithsonian, which will likely take some time since there are over 3 million negatives.

here’s the thing about participating in this process: you can devote as little or as much time as you wish. figuring out someone’s handwriting is puzzle solving in and of itself. there are multiple people who participate on a project so you don’t have to complete it all yourself and the home page of the website lists your user id and recent contribution.

you can transcribe from the original written word or you can review and check for accuracy what someone else has transcribed. and, every week or so new projects are uploaded for participation. an exciting one that i missed was a series of letters between prominent contemporary artists, so i’m on the lookout for any more of those.

no matter what subject matter you’re inclined toward, there is probably a project for you. there are scientist’s journals to transcribe, accounting log books for the math hearted, entries in a burpee seed contest, there are projects about anthropology, entomology, botany, history and more. and if you don’t find something you’re interested in, check back in a few days and see what’s new.

who knows, the contribution you make today may serve as the basis for new research decades from now. you’re not just improving your brain, but some else’s too.

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Filed under addiction, age, science, technology, work

In a Snapchat World, History is Not Your Friend

yesterday, i was trying to create a business envelope in word that i could save as a template and use to print a single envelope or in a mail merge for mass mailings. now, i’ve done this many times, but i hadn’t done it in my current version of word since i was using templates that pre-dated this version. unfortunately, my established templates committed suicide and i was forced to have to re-create them all. creating that stupid envelope took me almost a half hour, which included multiple useless microsoft knowledge searches and a lot of cursing at word programmers.

btw, microsoft programmers must not do any kind of user research. if they had, clippy would never have existed.

here’s the problem: i’m old enough to remember how i always did this in word version #1, but this latest version, in its attempt to spoon feed the user, actually interfered with the logic of how to accomplish the task. i have this issue a lot in new word, whose big brother attitude needs some controlling. yes, i know i can turn some of this nonsense off, but many of the issues are structural, as in what i used to do with one click now takes five.

i’m old enough to have gone through college without a computer of any kind. i typed all my papers on an electric typewriter and took notes with pen in a spiral notebook. in those days, the wave of the future was when some student brought a tape recorder to class to tape the lecture.

two years after i graduated college, when i was working for publishing company, the executives gathered all the employees together and talked about introducing a new thing called a personal computer
those were the days where there were actual debates as to whether you would ever have a computer in your home, because, afterall, what would you ever do with it? there were layout and tech specialists who worked at CRTs , but none of us mere mortals were allowed to touch their machines. now executives were proposing to put a computer on someone’s desk! though they still hadn’t figured out what said employee was going to do with it.

it’s funny to think of now, but those suits mounted a dog-and-pony-show to convince employees to participate in the program and anyone who volunteered to be the first wave of employees with a personal computer would be sent to classes to learn how to use it, all paid for by the company. then they asked for a show of hands. out of a room of a couple hundred people, i was one of a handful who volunteered.

i often tell this story to our kids, which elicits an expected eye rolling, but i like to think that one day maybe they (or their kids) will appreciate the history here.

here’s my point: sometimes historical knowledge is not your friend. anyone remember lotus 123? unless you were one of the first adopters of personal computers, you probably skipped the whole lotus 123 thing and plunged directly into excel. same for the early (non mouse) versions of word processing software where you did formatting using function keys. likewise with operating systems. remember dos? my computer day wasn’t greeted with a lovely picture hand picked for my huge screen, but a blank, black screen and a blinking green curser next to a C:>. no clicking of little icons to get a program running and no concept of an internet that could answer a question in an instant. you want to get something done? program it yourself. same with getting something fixed. user help desk? not a chance.

those of us learning these new software programs huddled together like birds in a storm, trading information in our little underground, triumphant with each little success, always reciting the mantra: save your work! save your work!

i spent many hours and overheated many brain cells mastering early versions of software that has now been streamlined and updated and equipped with user interfaces that make it easier to use without a whole lot of user programming. sometimes it comes in handy to have an old roadmap, knowing the underpinnings may help to wind through a logic pattern, but often it gets in the way.

so when my kids wonder my mom can’t remember stuff i tell them that between the early software knowledge and tv theme songs i don’t have enough room left in my brain.

so much for being an early adopter.


Filed under advice, age, computers, technology