Archive for the 'fun' Category

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Philadelphia’s secret computers

A documentary about the world’s first computers just arrived in the mail!  I’m excited to tell you about Top Secret Rosies, which was produced and directed by LeAnn Erickson and America’s Public Broadcasting Service (PBS)

Top Secret Rosies Trailer from LeAnn Erickson on Vimeo.

To set the stage speed dating style, two guys, Eckert and Mauchly met in 1941.  They later worked on a machine called the ENIAC which was developed at the University of Pennsylvania in collaboration with the United States government during WWII.

This collaboration was much like the joint effort between Harvard University, IBM, and the US Navy that was behind Aiken’s Mark series of computers.  Aiken began his endeavour at Harvard in 1937. (photo: Mark I detail)

It was later, in the 1950’s, that  Kenneth E. Iverson went to work with Aiken at Harvard and came up with the ideas behind our APL Array Programmning Language family.

As with all human innovations, advances in computer technology developed concurrently.  Many breakthroughs were made in the United States, primarily driven by the “Try Anything” WWII war time attitude of the government.  (A catchy phase, coined by Erickson, in her film. You really should watch it!).

As it turns out, however, the real first computers were women who did ballistic calculations to support the war effort.  Erickson found four of them still living in the Philadelphia area, close to where she lives. 

Philadelphia!  That’s where IBM moved us in the 1970’s.

Erickson does a great job of drawing out the personal histories of these four woman as their careers unfold against the drama of WWII. As Erickson effectively points out, not only were these women the world’s first computers, but they were later recruited to work on the ENIAC, as the first computer programmers.  Not too many people remember that our field was actually started by women.

It’s not difficult to draw an analogy between Erickson’s WWII story line and the APL Array Programming Language connection with the rise of international financial markets, and of course, the drama of subsequent market crashes.  I’ll be studying this excellent film very closely.

By the way, I gleaned dates and my attitude toward first computers from The first Computers: History And Architecture

AND YOU CAN See the Film in Philadelphia!

Date/Time: Tuesday, February 22, 2011 – 6:30pm
Temple Performing Arts Center (formerly known as the Baptist Temple)
1837 N. Broad Street, Philadelphia PA
The event is free and open to the public but ticket reservations are required.
To make free reservations, call (215)204-8660 or email

Date/Time: Wednesday, March 2, 2011 – 7:30pm
Bryn Mawr Film Institute
824 W. Lancaster Avenue, Bryn Mawr PA, 610.527.9898
The event is free and open to the public. Tickets will be available at the door.


Off to school

It’s late—

I’m late.  I’m running very, very, very late.

It’s tax season, so I’m working a lot for actual money these days, which rocks.  I took a break from accounting school last semester, but as they say… the party is over.  It’s back to the grind.  Classes begin again this week.  Sigh.  I hope you’ll forgive this tiniest of posts; believe it or not, we have to adhere to our production schedule here at the story factory.

For your amusement, I’ve introduced Godiva to illustrate the last couple of articles. If you’re curious as to her origins, give her photo a click with your mouse.  She’s a creation of my imagination, but I think my mother and sister divined her name.  I wanted to get a photo of her with the real APL type ball, but alas, her tail has fallen off.  She needs some maintenance before the next photo shoot.  A job for another day.

And on a semi-related note, in honour of Seth Godin, I want to personally thank those of you who “have my back.”  You know who you are, and I do, as well.  I would be nowhere without you.  xxxx 0000

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APL Array Language family in 2011 – Predictions

Happy New Year Everyone!

After a brief hiatus, we’re jumping back on the air.

As my emergence into the new year coincides with my first big cold of the season, I’m extra grateful and to have spent the last couple of days under the covers with my new book, fellow Canadian Dan Gardner’s Future Babble: Why Expert Predictions Fail – and Why We Believe Them Anyway. A true gift.

“The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” (p. 27)

I’ve decided to try on my Hedgehog hat and will make some predictions for the new year.

Temperamentally, I’m more of a Fox, but the research highlighted in the book indicates Hedgehogs get more air time, so I’ll attempt to emulate one.  I hope you can appreciate the irony.

The Predictions

  1. Opportunity for terse, powerful array based languages continues in 2011.
  2. A small number of individuals will achieve unprecedented commercial success.
  3. Major parallel processing problems will be solved and become passé.

It’s nice to be back.  I’m looking forward to another year on this grand film making adventure.

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Array! Hurrah! 2010 in pictures!

Thank you, everyone for a wonderful 2010! We’ll be back in January. Happy Holidays!

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Array road show, road tested

I did not expect to find myself celebrating this week; the North American tradition of Thanksgiving never sits very well with me.  My uneasiness stems from the awkward history of European land acquisition on this continent.  It isn’t a very nice story when you get down to the details, and I’m a little too ashamed of this dark past to be in the mood for a big party.  That’s just me.  However, I recognize the importance of being thankful.

So to my surprise, I’m counting my blessing right in step with a large portion of the people right here in North America.


First of all, Professor Ali Miri invited me to speak at Ryerson University’s Undergraduate Computer Science Department awards ceremony last week.  That was, hands down, the most positive experience I’ve had since the beginning of time.  I’m still smiling.  Amazingly, after the event it wasn’t just the professors or the closeted APL aficionados who came out of the woodwork to further the discussion.  The students were engaged!

What? Really!  No shit.

At the very least, I am thrilled that I could keep one 20-something woman in a white Hijab smiling and nodding for 45 minutes while talking about array programming languages…. Wow. Life is good…. It made my day. Heck, it made my month.

Secondly, you might have noticed that we posted a Happy Birthday APL post.  Well, fine readers, you sent that thing flying all over cyberspace and our blogsite received the highest number of visitors yet.  This was totally unexpected to me; the only reason I remembered the date, is because Roger Hui posted a reminder on one of the APL forums.

That, Folks, is the power of cyber team work. You rock!  The Jedi live!

So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish.


Unstitched in Brooklyn!

I really had a fantastic time in New York.  Before the trip, my executive producer Barry Pearson gave me some sagely advice.  Don’t forget you’re visually talented. He’s talking about what Ken Iverson once called, all that art school.

The truth is I can become unstitched by the way a ray of sun hits a single leaf and then spend hours taking photographs trying to catch it. Light can be elusive and as such, presents a great challenge.

So, with Barry’s advice in mind, I spent a good afternoon in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden chasing beams of light.

Indeed, I cannot resist saying, the squirrels are very friendly!


Evil plan part 2

Evil Plan Part 2 involves inventing a clever and fun business model to fund this operation and make everyone who is not a part of it jealous.

I think I’m on to something.  The timing is perfect for a collective cybernetic media strategy based on, guess what?  Stories, of course!

Are you lost?  You might be.  Here’s some homework.  Jinnean Barnard illustrates the power of unharnessed social media in A Recipe for Collective Outrage.

Let’s put some reins on this beast, shall we?


hyper-accurate estimation, classification, and quantification of unstructured data

Despite my initial trepidation, I participated in Fast Company’s The Influence Project.  These group contests aren’t very sophisticated in that they rely on the cult of personality as well as popularity to drive participation; which, to me feels…. well, like SPAM. My feeling or perhaps my hope, is that we will evolve as humans in this area and come up with smarter games.

Having said this, after locating and seeing my photo among the 32,955 others, I felt differently.  I saw myself as a small part of the world’s biggest team.  Awesome. That’s the power of visualization; an image can change how you think and feel about something.

Anyway, if you care to read between the lines, the following article has a little something for everyone interested in interpreting and visualizing data…

Unlike Crimson Hexagon, most social media monitoring companies rely on two common solutions: keywords and semantics.  Both, says Centurino, only offer non-specific positive or negative portraits of public opinion and are severely limited. Keywords analysis depends upon an expansive library of definitions (“It’s like Cirque du Soleil contortionism” he says); and a semantic approach (that is, the analysis of phrases and expressions) requires a language model that recognizes sarcasm, snark, abbreviations, and an endless amount of Web slang.

Harvard-Developed Tool Measures Real-Time Public Opinion on Social Media


Just like a rock star!

There is nothing on this planet that transports me more quickly to the early APL days than the sound of Jim Brown’s voice.  I think I can speak for more than myself when I say, as children, we loved Jim! I think I have picture of a pack of us as wild-eyed munchkins assaulting the poor man in some lake, most probably in the state of New York.

So when I found this little clip on the APL97 video tapes, I couldn’t resist sharing. Enjoy. A minute and a half is all there was…


Geek chic old news goes bang!

Good golly! An award winning geek show created by Chuck Lorre (Two and a Half Men) and Bill Prady (Gilmore Girls)?

The Big Bang Theory


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