I don’t suppose anyone who reads my words will examine them with as much attention to detail as I write them.  I would be very happy if that were not the case, if a whole range of people did spend hours poring over my words, but reality tells me that is probably not happening.

So it may come as a surprise that I am worried about my so-called valorisation of women pioneers of the highly sophisticated calculating machines and their spin-offs.  I am concerned about the unexpected consequences of a handful of women, many years ago, who helped develop nuclear and atom bombs?  By this I mean that Jean Jennings et al, and Grace Hopper did help develop those weapons of mass destruction with their work at ENIAC. Why should I hold women up to closer scrutiny than the many men involved in computer technology.  I know there are many people out there now involved in designing new, remote ways to kill our enemies.  It is unfair surely?

Is it because there are so few women in that world and they just stand out more, or is it that women are, perhaps, too equal to men?  It has become clear to me today that women should be, better.  More humane, compassionate and considered. That is what I expect.  When I found they had feet of clay, my heart sank and I was forced to accept that we humans are, at heart, all fallible.  When the Nazi guards explained that they were only obeying orders, we dismissed this as merely an excuse, we can’t hold those American women up to a lesser scrutiny than the other small cogs in rotten machines who let bad things happen, can we? We are all capable of making the wrong decision and therefore we must always be careful of the consequences of our actions, espousing the next new things, following orders blindly, before actually thinking them through.


The development of computer software is a history strongly represented by women who have played significant rôles in its development. Ada Lovelace is the best known and Grace Hopper is also becoming a legend among the cognoscenti.   Less heralded by history was a group of six women who worked in wartime secrecy at the University of Pennsylvania, where John Mauchly and Presper Eckert led a team that was building ENIAC, the world’s first programmable, all-electronic, general-purpose computer.

 As ENIAC was being constructed at Penn in 1945, it was thought that it would perform a specific set of calculations over and over, such as determining a missile’s trajectory using different variables. But the end of the war meant that the machine was needed for many other types of calculations—sonic waves, weather patterns, and the explosive power of atom bombs—that would require it to be reprogrammed often.

This entailed switching around by hand ENIAC’s rat’s nest of cables and resetting its switches. At first the programming seemed to be a routine, perhaps even menial task, which may have been why it was relegated to women, who back then were not encouraged to become engineers. But what the women of ENIAC soon showed, and the men later came to understand, was that the programming of a computer could be just as significant as the design of its hardware.

The tale of Jean Jennings is illustrative of the early women computer programmers. She was born on a farm on the outskirts of Alanthus Grove, Maryville, into a family that had almost no money but deeply valued education. When Jean finished college in January 1945, her calculus teacher showed her a flier soliciting women mathematicians to work at the University of Pennsylvania, where women were working as “computers”—humans who performed routine maths tasks. 

One of the ads read:

Wanted: Women with Degrees in Mathematics…Women are being offered scientific and engineering jobs where formerly men were preferred. Now is the time to consider your job in science and engineering…You will find that the slogan there as elsewhere is ‘Women Wanted’.

 When Jennings started work at Penn in March 1945 there were approximately seventy other women at Pennsylvania working on desktop adding machines and scribbling numbers on huge sheets of paper.  A few months after she arrived, a memo was circulated among the women advertising six job openings to work on the mysterious machine that was behind locked doors on the first floor of Penn’s Moore School of Engineering, the ENIAC. She had no idea what the job was or what the ENIAC was, all she hoped was that she might be getting in on the ground floor of something new.  She believed in herself and wanted to do something more exciting than calculating trajectories.

When Jean Jennings got that job she was set to work together with Marlyn Wescoff, Ruth Lichterman, Betty Snyder, Frances Bilas, and Kay McNulty to figure out how the machine worked and then how to programme it.   They made careful diagrams and charts for each new configuration of cables and switches. What they were doing then was the beginning of a programme, though they did not yet have that word for it.

Around the same time that Grace Hopper was doing so at Harvard, the women of ENIAC were developing the use of subroutines. Because it was being used for atom bomb calculations and other classified tasks, ENIAC was kept secret until February 1946, when the Army and Penn scheduled a gala unveiling for the public and the press.  At the demonstration, ENIAC was able to spew out in 15 seconds a set of missile trajectory calculations that would have taken human computers several weeks. The women had programmed the ENIAC.  The unveiling of ENIAC made the front page of the New York Times under the headline ELECTRONIC COMPUTER FLASHES ANSWERS, MAY SPEED ENGINEERING.

Later Jennings complained, in the tradition of Ada Lovelace, that many of the newspaper reports overstated what ENIAC could do by calling it a giant brain and implying that it could think. The ENIAC wasn’t a brain in any sense, it couldn’t reason, as computers still cannot reason, but it could give people more data to use in reasoning.

That night there was a candlelit dinner at Pennsylvania’s venerable Houston Hall. It was filled with scientific luminaries, military brass, and most of the men who had worked on ENIAC. But Jean Jennings and Betty Snyder  were not there, nor were any of the other women programmers.

Shortly before she died in 2011, Jean Jennings reflected proudly on the fact that all the programmers who created the first general-purpose computer were women. It happened because a lot of women back then had studied maths, and their skills were in demand, she explained. There was also an irony involved, the boys with their toys thought that assembling the hardware was the most important task, and thus a man’s job. If the ENIAC’s administrators had known how crucial programming would be to the functioning of the electronic computer and how complex it would prove to be, they might have been more hesitant about giving such an important role to women.

The Criminalisation of Begging

I like the way you think and this article clarifies a situation I had not been aware of. Thanks

The Idle European

In most European cities, it is common to find a lone Roma beggar sitting at a corner of a street with a coffee cup in hand. Many of these beggars have moved to west in hopes of earning more money in wealthier countries with less competition. Many people are annoyed of the sight of begging Roma, and the Norwegian government is now discussing a national ban to remove the beggars from the townscape.

The ban would not only make the act of begging illegal but it would also ban the well-meaning Norwegians from giving aid to the beggars, be it monetary or material. Consequently this has left many Europeans baffled and enraged citizens and politicians alike. Some see it as a vicious attack against the poor minority.

Begging has always been a complex issue. The problem is that it may often be organized: the poor people are approached in their…

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Thank you Mum Overboard  for the nomination!

The rules are:

Post 11 random facts about yourself.

  1. 2. Answer 11 questions asked by the person who nominated you.
    3. Nominate 11 bloggers (with less than 200 followers) to do the same.
    4. Let the bloggers know you have nominated them.

11 Random Facts About Me

  1. I have dual British/Italian nationality thanks to an Italian father and English mother.
  2. I was born in Willesden Green, North London and still think London one of the most exciting cities in the world.
  3. I used to be a fashion buyer for a big British chain and was paid to travel the world looking at clothes, fabric and shops – my ideal job.
  4. When I married and got pregnant I left my job. I had three wonder ful children in four years. One girl and two boys.
  5. When the children started school I embarked on a period of study at college and University. I re-trained as an artist.
  6. I am now a printmaker/conceptual artist with a studio in Tring, Hertfordshire, UK.
  7. I practice my art and teach a new print process called Solar Plate Printmaking which is non-toxic and fixes images onto metal plates using UV light (sunlight).
  8. I have two sisters and no brothers like Crystal and am the middle one. I was the youngest for fifteen years and then my world was blown apart.
  9. My younger sister is now a top selling crime novelist and I find it irritating when I recognise some of my own traits in one of her characters.
  10. My father died in 2002 and I was devastated, and although he was ninety I never expected it. My mother died two days before Christmas 2014 and I am still grieving.
  11. My children are now all married and I have two wonderful grandchildren, a girl and a boy whom I adore. Being a grandmother (Nonna in my case) is wonderful, you get all the fun of playing and stimulating young children and none of the responsibilities.

Q & A

  1. Q. How old were you when you started driving?
  2. I love driving and learned when I was around 20 or 21. I love Formula One racing and support Ferrari – of course!
  3. Q. Did you go to college/university?
  4. Yes, but not until I was an adult and had my children. Combining child-care and study was a challenge.
  5. Q. When did you start blogging and why?
  6. I only started blogging last year. I am writing a book and wanted to introduce a second voice to the plot line and hit upon interspersing the linear story with retrospective Blogs in order to fill in some of the ideas I would eventually be dealing with.  So I needed to practice a ‘blog’ voice, hence my own blog site, but now I am hooked and just enjoy the blogging for its own sake and love meeting new people from all around the world.
  7. Q. If you could have 3 wishes granted what would they be?
  8. 1. To be offered a solo exhibition of my work in London (or Paris, Rome or New York or all three!)..
  9. For my book to be really good – I have no idea yet as it’s not finished and anyhow I can’t be subjective about it.
  10. For all my family and friends to be happy and healthy. (This should be first I think.)
  11. Q. What was your favourite subject in elementary school?
  12. Always Art followed by Biology, then Needlework and English Literature tying for third.
  13. Q. Do you have pets?
  14. No not anymore. We had three cats one for each child but now they are gone and I am spending a lot of time away on grandmotherly and daughterly duties it seems unkind to own a pet and leave it for long periods for my husband to look after.  If I did have one though, I’d love a dog.
  15. Q. Do you have children?
  16. Yes, three. See No. 4 above.
  17. Q. favourite meal?
  18. Fetuccini with Truffles. Absolutely delicious.
  19. Q. If you were stranded on an island and could only have three songs with you, what would they be?
  20. 1. The overture to La Traviatta by Verdi.
  21. San Francisco (be sure to wear some flowers in your hair). By John Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas and sung by Scott McKenzie.
  22. Concierto de Aranjuez by Joaquin Rodrigo
  23. Q. What is your favourite season?
  24. Autumn. But then now is Autumn and I usually love each one as they come around.
  25. Q. favourite colour?
  26. Black, but then that’s not strictly speaking a colour so I’ll have to choose Red.

My Questions:

  1. Q Where would you live if you could chose anywhere in the world?
  2. Would you choose to live forever if the technology existed to let you?
  3. Do you hope that there are other planets that support life?
  4. If there is alien life out there would you like to meet them?
  5. Do you think it is ever right to take another person’s life?
  6. What is the reason/and or meaning behind your blog’s title.
  7. How many digital devices do you have and which is your favourite?
  8. What is your favourite form of entertainment?
  9. Do you like the place where you live and why?
  10. What was your best/favourite subject at school?
  11. What depresses you most?

My list:


Technology in its widest sense has shaped mankind’s evolutionary journey.  Our brains, bodies, metabolism, society and culture have co-evolved along with technology.  Ever since our cave dwelling progenitors first picked up a stone to crack open a nut, a bird’s skull, overwhelm an angry predator or a rival in love, mankind has used technology.

 The 4th century BC philosopher Plato railed against a radical new technology in his book Phaedrus.  He was worried that the invention of writing would prevent us using our memories.  “This discovery of yours will create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls because they will not use their memories.  They will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves.  You give your disciples not truth but only the semblance of truth.  They will be hearers of many things and they will have learnt nothing.”  Today, however, the inability to write even your own name brings upon the individual a terrible shame which many attempt to hide from others. 

 Technological tools proliferate in all cultures, poor and rich alike, with most of us in affluent parts of the world using digital gadgets of some or all kinds.  It would be difficult for us to conduct our daily lives without our smart phones, sat.navs., tablets and laptops.  Technology expands what it means to be human creating things that possess capabilities we thought unique to humans; reason, ethics, learning and intelligence.  Technology today both mirrors us and challenges us.

 Micro-chip implants allow a kind of internal technology that link us to our machines.  Not only do surgical implants keep us alive and moving, but chips inserted into our bodies beneath the skin can enable us to operate remote machinery; to communicate with distant loved ones; or provide information to our homes which ensure a warm welcome every time the computer opens the front door.  

 Why should we resist  outsourcing or integrating with machines, surely that would  make us Luddites?  If we do link with technology can we ensure mankind stays in the driving seat?  If we upgrade our bodies will we stop being human?   What if we discard our bodies but insert our brains into robots will we lose our humanity and become just another cyborg?

 A lot of our illnesses are due to our bodies wearing out, if we didn’t have a physical body we wouldn’t have a problem, would we?  When do we stop being human?  Would we be happy living longer, being integrated with a machine, having enhanced powers and anyhow, do we need more people living longer on this crowded plant?

 We should remember Plato and keep our critical faculties sharp, questioning new developments and valuing what we already have. But for us to move forward in this interconnected new world and continue our evolutionary journey safely, we will need some time apart, un-plugged and on our own.  Plato’s words could just as easily be used today to criticise the widespread use of satellites to navigate when we used to read maps; computer reminders of appointments when we used to write in our diaries; dialling our friends when we used to remember their numbers; sending automated from computer generated lists when we used to empathise with loss or celebration face to face. 

 Not knowing how to use our new devices probably will, some day, also mark us out as deficient and the non upgraded human will probably wish to hide their shame much like those people today who cannot write.  Furthermore what will happen to the humans who don’t upgrade, will ‘ordinary’ humans become something of a sub-species?  Future cyborgs will be far more intelligent than the un-enhanced.  The hybrids will have new ways to communicate, new sensory inputs, they will be superior.  If we want to stay part of the action will we have to upgrade? 

 It seems that we should value what we have, our brains and their un-enhanced capacity to analyse.  Take some time apart.  Reflect honestly.  Adhere to our own moral codes, as some things must remain sacrosanct.  It would be a terrible shame if progress were to pass us by, or hastily welcomed without all our critical faculties fully engaged. If we don’t embrace mankind’s new technological advances it could be a terrible shame.