Rear Admiral Grace Hopper would have been 107 today, and is being honored with a great Google Doodle. It’s quite literally impossible for us to imagine, as we sit here reading about her on the internet, but people used to use things like paper and pencils and chalk and slide rules to solve (and often not solve) complicated problems. Grace Hopper quite simply helped usher in the modern age, her impact, I think, is no less than the steam engine or the cotton gin.
Some awesome stuff she did: Grace Hopper developed first compiler, allowing computer calculations to move beyond simple arithmetic and into more complex problems. She also developed first standardized computer language, COBOL, which laid the groundwork for all the languages we use today.
One day she found a dead moth disrupting one of the electronic relays in the Mark 1 computer, and upon removing it (and fixing the computer), the term “debugging" was born. Here’s her daily log from that day, with the offending moth taped to the page:
Beyond that, she was a charming scientific communicator, and she possessed a marvelous ability to make people, and mind you this was in a time when almost no one owned their own computer, truly appreciate both the importance and the complexity of computing technology.
She famously carried around a bundle of nanoseconds in her purse for illustrative purposes. Here she is charming the socks off of David Letterman, and giving him a nanosecond of his very own (don’t miss the picosecond joke, either) :
Meet the Spies Doing the NSA’s Dirty Work
By Shane Harris | Foreign Policy
November 21, 2013The “Data Intercept Technology Unit”, ‘DITU’… This obscure FBI unit does the domestic surveillance that no other intelligence agency can touch.With every fresh leak, the world learns more about the U.S. National Security Agency’s massive and controversial surveillance apparatus. Lost in the commotion has been the story of the NSA’s indispensable partner in its global spying operations: an obscure, clandestine unit of the Federal Bureau of Investigation that, even for a surveillance agency, keeps a low profile.
When the media and members of Congress say the NSA spies on Americans, what they really mean is that the FBI helps the NSA do it, providing a technical and legal infrastructure that permits the NSA, which by law collects foreign intelligence, to operate on U.S. soil. It’s the FBI, a domestic U.S. law enforcement agency, that collects digital information from at least nine American technology companies as part of the NSA’s Prism system. It was the FBI that petitioned (pdf) the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to order Verizon Business Network Services, one of the United States’ biggest telecom carriers for corporations, to hand over the call records of millions of its customers to the NSA.
But the FBI is no mere errand boy for the United States’ biggest intelligence agency. It carries out its own signals intelligence operations and is trying to collect huge amounts of email and Internet data from U.S. companies — an operation that the NSA once conducted, was reprimanded for, and says it abandoned.
The heart of the FBI’s signals intelligence activities is an obscure organization called the Data Intercept Technology Unit, or DITU (pronounced DEE-too). The handful of news articles that mentioned it prior to revelations of NSA surveillance this summer did so mostly in passing. It has barely been discussed in congressional testimony. An NSA PowerPoint presentation given to journalists by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden hints at DITU’s pivotal role in the NSA’s Prism system — it appears as a nondescript box on a flowchart showing how the NSA “task[s]” information to be collected, which is then gathered and delivered by the DITU.
But interviews with current and former law enforcement officials, as well as technology industry representatives, reveal that the unit is the FBI’s equivalent of the National Security Agency and the primary liaison between the spy agency and many of America’s most important technology companies, including Google, Facebook, YouTube, and Apple…
In Full @ Foreign Policy