I was feeling inspired last night, so I decided to make this purely for fun.
To the moon and back: Cold, dark nights clutching thermos flasks of hot coffee. Machinery whirring as telescopes trace a star across the sky. Intricate, geometric drawings of the celestial sphere. A messy bun and a NASA t-shirt. Filling in the logbook while punk rock blares in the background to keep you energised and awake. Pictures of nebulae and galaxies everywhere, because pretty space pictures is half the fun. Annoyed huffs every time someone mentions their star sign.
Natural Philosopher: Long, intellectual debates in coffee shops about mathematics, physics, philosophy. Chalkboards covered with equations and calculations in a precise, curving handwriting. That Eureka moment while deep in thought, expressed only with a small smile and a scribbled proof on the back of a serviette. Chaotic desks in front of bookshelves groaning with old textbooks. Antique lab equipment as functional decor.
“Trust Me, I’m a Scientist”: Large computer screens running freshly-typed code. Neat lab books and PDFs of journal articles. The smell of whiteboard markers. Polished new equipment in a tangle of cables, hooked up to a digital oscilloscope. Exact amounts of chemicals in rows in metal shelves. Resting your feet up on the bench after a long day in the lab. The satisfying hum of your colleagues as they work on their experiments around you.
Science Expedition: Dirt under your nails and a loosely-bound collection of field notes. Plant clippings carefully taken to be analysed back in the lab. Soft fur on tough, wild animals. The bitter smoke from eco-friendly firewood while you roast marshmallows and listen to a supervisor’s witty stories. Free-handing diagrams while looking through a microscope. Sketching flowers and that gorgeous ocean view from your last field trip. Reading Darwin on the bus home but falling asleep on your lab partner’s shoulder out of sheer exhaustion after the first three pages.
Life is a Science: Scrolling past an anti-vax facebook post and resisting the urge to burn down the internet. Shiny dissection kits and the sharp smell of formaldehyde. Making time to work out and pack a healthy lunch because your mind is sharpest when your body is well. Debunking the latest superfood fad with peer-reviewed journal articles. Making friends with some of the nicer med school kids in anatomy class. Colour-coded, neatly labelled diagrams and a thousand different terms memorised. Getting a double-helix DNA sculpture for your desk.
What they show on TV isn’t real hacking: Rubbing your eyes after staring at a screen for five hours straight. Having a blank keyboard because all the letters are rubbed off already. Energy drinks in strange colours at strange hours. Being fluent in four different coding languages. Circuit boards and printouts. Ones and zeroes. Running jokes about turning everything off and on again. Rage-quitting when you realise you forgot a comma or a colon somewhere. Black screens with brightly coloured lines. The comforting click-click of fingertips tapping keys. Applying to intern at Google every three months because maybe they’ll take you this time. Writing a piece of code to do something simple just because.
The most poetic introduction to computer science I’ve seen
Computational processes are abstract beings that inhabit computers. As they evolve, processes manipulate other abstract things called data. The evolution of a process is directed by a pattern of rules called a program. People create programs to direct processes. In effect, we conjure the spirits of the computer with our spells.
A computational process is indeed much like a sorcerer’s idea of a spirit. It cannot be seen or touched. It is not composed of matter at all. However, it is very real. It can perform intellectual work. It can answer questions. It can affect the world by disbursing money at a bank or by controlling a robot arm in a factory. The programs we use to conjure processes are like a sorcerer’s spells. They are carefully composed from symbolic expressions in arcane and esoteric programming languages that prescribe the tasks we want our processes to perform.
- From Chapter 1 of The Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs, by Harold Abelson and Gerald Jay Sussman with Julie Sussman (MIT Press 1996, 2nd edition).
[Refer to Clarke’s Third Law: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.]
Grace Hopper (1906-1992), sometimes referred to as ‘Amazing
Grace’, was a computer scientist and an Admiral in the US Navy. In 1944, she
invented the first compiler for a computer programming language.
earned her master’s and PhD in mathematics from Yale, and began teaching at
Vassar in 1931. She was part of the US Navy Reserve during World War II, all
while working for the Harvard Computation Lab, where she was part of the Mark I
computer programming project. She remained on active duty well beyond the
retirement age, becoming the oldest active-duty officer in the history of the
Navy, at 79 years of age.