Category Archives: Uncategorized

Waze is why I’m not afraid of SkyNet

Waze is one of my favorite apps. Last year, I was visiting Phoenix and meeting some friends at a local pub. They had given me a name, and not an address. No problem, I’ll just enter the name into Waze. The first (and only!) choice presented to me was a pub in England. Turns out, I got the name wrong. Waze had access to a number of things about me. It knew that I wasn’t near home. It knew the local time. It knew that I had gone to a hotel the night before and left there in the morning. In short, it knew that I was on a trip.

What it couldn’t figure out was that I wanted to go to a local pub rather than a pub in England.

Artificial intelligence has a way to go (sorry, couldn’t resist) before it crosses over into Skynet-like activity.

As a young girl, my mother took me to an academic conference on artificial intelligence. These were the early days of AI. We were just started to work on the definition of what AI meant. One of the presenters described an AI medical system that could analyze symptoms and present a diagnosis. After multiple demonstrations of this amazing capability, the doctor was bored. And it struck him. One working definition of a true AI would be one that could get bored.

It’s as good as any definition I’ve heard. Although I would be happy if my map could simply figure out that I wanted a beer more than a plane flight.

Space is Hard

Today, shortly after launch, the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket exploded. The commercial space company’s CEO, Elon Musk tweeted that the rocket had experienced a problem.  Astronaut Scott Kelly followed up with another tweet, stating simply that Space is Hard.

Sure, space is hard. In fact, rocket science is the epitome of hard. When we want to say that something is difficult, we compare it to rocket science. Maybe brain surgery is hard too. Definitely rocket science though. This isn’t rocket science, folks. Space is hard.

Why do we need to be reminded of this? Because we’re good. SpaceX launched 18 rockets without incident. Most of them didn’t even make the news at all, much less make front page coverage. In 2014, 88 successful launches took place, with only two failures. We’ve become immured to the idea that we can launch rockets into orbit.

We have lost our sense of wonder.

 

Flanking with Humor by being #distractinglysexy

The most fun to be had this week was watching the scientific community react to Sir Tim Hunt, Nobel Laureate, putting his foot in his mouth.MargaretHamilton

For those who missed it, the brief blow-by-blow is this. In his audience in South Korea was a fellow British scientist, Connie St Louis. She tweeted that Sir Tim proclaimed himself to be a male chauvinist and then proceeded to outline the trouble with girls in the lab as “you fall in love with them, they fall in love with you and when you criticize them, they cry”.  When the story was picked up, his next statements did little to assure the “girls” that he meant them well. The spiraling was starting. And then something amazing happened.

The magazine Vagenda called on female scientists to post pictures of themselves with the hashtag #distractinglysexy. The hilarity ensued. The conversation changed from the outdated, offensive comments to a conversation about the wonderful, amazing, and — indeed, sexy — science being accomplished by women today and in the past. The mainstream media reported on it here, here, here, and here. A #distractinglysexy calendar has even popped up on Kickstarter.

The beauty of the response is that the scientists are showing their skill alongside their humor. Almost inevitably, when the issue of sexism is discussed, women are portrayed as being worse than wrong. They are cast as feminazis, as mean-spirited, as humorless, as Orwellian, as unable to face the truth. Indeed, many people have attempted to do so in this case as well.

This anti-feminism counter narrative falls flat in the face of all of the #distractinglysexy scientists who prove by their actions that they simply want to do science and have fun doing it.

Raise the Flag!

Why It’s Okay to Celebrate on Memorial Day

Half-staff, only until noonMemorial Day is more than a day of sales and backyard barbecues and weekends at the beach and the start of summer. Memorial Day is a solemn holiday, instituted by General Logan to commemorate the fallen and honor the dead and remember the widows and orphans of those who gave their last full measure.

I’m here to tell you that it’s okay to do both. We can honor our dead, remember the fallen, #HonorThem, while enjoying those freedoms that they secured for us. I know this truth because it is written in that wonderful book, The Bluejackets Manual.

For those unfamiliar with this epic repository of naval knowledge, the book has been in print since 1902. Hundreds, thousands, even hundreds of thousands of copies have been published through the years. The US Naval Institute is on their 24th Edition. A copy is given to every Sailor who joins our Navy.

And the Bluejacket Manual tells us that we fly our national ensign at half staff until noon (emphasis mine) at which time the ship or station should fire a gun twenty one times. After the last round is fired, the flag is raised to full staff. If a gun is not available, then the flag is raised at 12:20 local.

We recognize the sacrifice and mourn the loss of our brothers and sisters in arms. We tell stories about them, we share their pictures, we visit their graves, we fly the flag at half-staff. And then we raise the flag, signifying the victory that they fought and won for us.

Like anyone who has served in our military, I have lost friends. The first were in training accidents. We lost good friends that way. Not KIA (killed in action) and yet, in a way, they were. They were killed being prepared to fight our advesaries. I lost comrades. Two full P3 Orion crews went down when they apparently collided with all souls lost. Not KIA and yet, they were. They died training to search for submarines during the Cold War. The first Gulf War brought more loss. The Iraq and Afghan wars even more. Every single loss is a personal and national tragedy. Every single death in defense of our nation is a loss to our nation, and at the same time every single death is deeply personal. My nephew left us, left his child, his parents, his family, his nation.

So, with a heart heavy with loss, I urge you to observe the National Moment of Remembrance at 3 PM local, wherever you are. As you enjoy that beer, brat, burger, with your friends and family around you, remember those who cannot. Remember their wives, husbands, fathers, mothers, children, brothers and sisters who mourn them every day.

And then, remember your freedoms. Remember their success.
Raise the flag at 12:20 promptly. And celebrate their victories!

[Unless you have you plan to fire a twenty-one gun salute at your house. In which case, I urge you to invite me. Because, well, because cannon.]