Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Because I could

Ada Lovelace mother of programming, designed a code for Charles Babbage's Analytical Engine to be. All the more remarkable, since as John Mashey points out, the Analytical Engine was the first first known computing startup that spent a lot of someone else’s money, had a workable design, but never shipped product, at least in part because the designer wasn’t easy to work with. You can read Sydney Padua's 2D Goggles, comics version of their adventures, which was inspired by the Ada Lovelace Day (March 24) Project where bloggers, honor women who have contributed to technology and science.

Last December Eli was privileged to take part in an MRS seminar held in honor of Dr. Marni Goldman, who died in 2007 of complications from lifelong muscular dystrophy. As far as anyone can remember this was the first time that MRS had ever had a memorial seminar at a National Meeting. Marni, who he had met a few times at MRS meetings, was an extraordinary person, and Rabett Run's choice to honor on Ada Lovelace day. Below is a video showing Marni as a graduate student in the 1990s at Berkeley.


She graduated as a double minor at U Penn, in psychology and materials science and engineering before earning her masters and doctoral degrees in materials science at Berkeley after which she did a post-doc at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab. In the words of her advisors, her science blew people away. After her post-doc Marni's interests moved to science education and outreach. Marni was Educational Director of the Center on Polymer Interfaces and Macromolecular Assemblies, an NSF Materials Research Science and Engineering Center. She was a major influence on all of the campus she studied and worked at as can be seen in reading the tributes to her. Educational materials she created are accessible on the web

Ron Gronsky, her mentor at Berkeley, has a story (follow the link for more, it is well worth it)

In addition to her able manipulation of her wheelchair, Marni also drove a heavily modified van with keypad control and 6 inch diameter steering wheel to match her limited physical reach to the rigors acceleration, braking, and navigation on the California highway system as well as the more challenging Berkeley neighborhood traffic diverter system. I have a warm place in my heart for motor vehicles, particularly the "performance" kind, so I had many discussions with Marni about the engineering advancements in her "ride." She was very proud of, and pleased with, the performance of her van, too.

One day we attended an event that had both of us, Marni and I, driving back and forth on the interstate, with several graduate students as passengers. I dutifully took the lead and watched my rearview mirror diligently so Marni would not get lost, slowing as necessary to continue our caravan. All went well on the way down. We were heading back to Berkeley in the early evening when it happened...

I lost sight of Marni's van in my rearview mirror.

Near panic, I began scanning my mirrors but couldn't slow down because I had a large truck barreling down on my classic 1972 Dodge Demon. So I took the only reasonable course of action. I downshifted and punched it, leaving the truck in a cloud of blue smoke, exceeding the speed limit now by a considerable amount, preparing to draft the SUV in front of me, and slice into the passing lane.

However, I was sealed off there, too...

Blowing past me (literally) in the fast lane was... MARNI'S VAN!.

She took the lead, and I never caught up with her!

The next day she came to my office for a pre-scheduled meeting, so I asked her about the "passing" incident, risking my sounding more like a parent than a research advisor, but I was very concerned...

"Marni, I was doing at least 70 in a 55 mph zone and YOU PASSED ME! That was really scary! Why did you do it?

Before she spoke, I saw it again. The characteristic smirk that I saw Marni give so many times over the past few years, which I came to love and to fear at the same time: the twinkle in her eyes, a turn of her head to the side while she kept you in sight, followed by that unmistakable pre-emergence of a bright smile. And of course by now I knew to hold my silence, because she was about to give me the answer. And she did.

"Because I could." She said.
A scholarship has been established in her name


Anonymous said...

I live ~8 miles from the tiny village of Ockham, Surrey, England in the United Kingdom. Only very recently, I discovered that Ockham is the birthplace of William of Occam (c. 1288 - c. 1348), of Occam's Razor fame [I had always known him as William of Occam], so I had never made the connection. While I was investigating him, I discovered that Ada Lovelace lived at Ockham Park.

Random mouse

willard said...

Sardonically, "because I could" is what Camus makes Caligula say to justify his deeds. So I suggest we don't give her any dictatorial power. Not even for one day.


Horatio Algeranon said...

"Because I could" is reminiscent of the famous response of George Mallory when someone asked him "Why do you want to climb Mount Everest?":

"Because it's there".

Rattus Norvegicus said...

I think that Ethon might enjoy this.