Books You Should Read: The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind

For many of us, our passion for electronics and science originated with curiosity about some device, a computer, radio, or even a car. The subject of this book has just such an origin. However, how many of us made this discovery and pursued this path during times of hunger or outright famine?

That’s the remarkable story of William Kamkwamba that’s told in the book, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind. Remarkable because it culminates with his building a windmill (more correctly called a wind turbine) that powered lights in his family’s house all by the young age of fifteen. As you’ll see, it’s also the story of an unyielding thirst for knowledge in the face of famine and doubt by others.

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Dr. Anthony Fauci, Infectious Disease Slayer

In the two months since the harsh realities of SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 have come into sharp focus, Americans have become increasingly familiar with a man who has been quietly serving the people since the days when Ronald Reagan was up for re-election. For many, Dr. Anthony Fauci is the national voice of reason in a sea of dubious information. He has arguably become the most trustworthy person the government has to offer in the face of this pandemic.

Officially, Dr. Fauci is the Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), a position he was appointed to in 1984. He has worked under six presidents, advising them on every outbreak from the HIV/AIDS epidemic up through Zika and Ebola. Now, he is part of the White House’s coronavirus task force.

At 79 years old, he still works 18-hour days, sticking it to infectious diseases with one hand, and smoothing the feathers of the American people with the other. Dr. Fauci certainly feels like the right person at the right time. So how did he get to this point?

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Perhaps August Dvorak Is More Your Type

One of the strangest things about human nature is our tendency toward inertia. We take so much uncontrollable change in stride, but when our man-made constructs stop making sense, we’re suddenly stuck in our ways — for instance, the way we measure things in the US, or define daytime throughout the year. Inertia seems to be the only explanation for continuing to do things the old way, even when new and scientifically superior ways come along. But this isn’t about the metric system — it’s about something much more personal. If you use a keyboard with any degree of regularity, this affects you physically.

Many, many people are content to live their entire lives typing on QWERTY keyboards. They never give a thought to the unfortunate layout choices of common letters, nor do they pick up even a whisper of the heated debates about the effectiveness of QWERTY vs. other layouts. We would bet that most of our readers have at least heard of the Dvorak layout, and assume that a decent percentage of you have converted to it.

Hardly anyone in the history of typewriting has cared so much about subverting QWERTY as August Dvorak. Once he began to study the the QWERTY layout and all its associated problems, he devoted the rest of his life to the plight of the typist. Although the Dvorak keyboard layout never gained widespread adoption, plenty of people swear by it, and it continues to inspire more finger-friendly layouts to this day.

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The Legacy Of One Of Science’s Brightest Stars: Freeman Dyson

Of the many well-known names in science, few have been as reluctant to stick to one particular field as Freeman John Dyson. Born in the UK in 1923, he showed a great interest in mathematics and related fields even as a child. By the time he was 15 he had won a scholarship at Trinity College, in Cambridge, where he studied mathematics. Though the war forced him to work at the Air Force’s Operational Research Section (ORS), afterwards he would return to Trinity to get his BA in mathematics.

His subsequent career saw him teaching at universities in the UK and US, before eventually ending up at Cornell University, where he joined the Institute for Advanced Study at the invitation of its head, J. Robert Oppenheimer. Here he would meet up with such people as Richard Feynman with whom he would work on quantum electrodynamics.

Beyond mathematics and physics, Dyson would also express great interest in space exploration — with Dyson spheres being well-known — and genetics, both in the context of the first formation of life and in genetic manipulation to improve plants to deal with issues today. He also worked on the famous Project Orion, which used nuclear bombs for propulsion.

In this article we’ll take a look at these and other parts of Mr. Dyson’s legacy, as well as the influence of his works today.

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Florence Nightingale: The Lady With The Data

When you think of Florence Nightingale, you probably imagine a nurse with a lamp, comforting soldiers. Indeed, Florence is considered the mother of modern nursing. But she also made serious contributions in statistical data analysis, and used the diagram named after her, the Nightingale rose diagram, to convince the British Parliament to enact sanitation reforms that saved hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of lives.

During the Crimean war, Florence worked around the clock as head nurse in an overcrowded field hospital. But she also found time to create graphs to illustrate the terrible conditions of that field hospital to members of British Parliament. The sanitation reforms she led greatly improved the life of the soldiers in battle, and widespread adoption of her hygienic practices vastly reduced mortality rates of humanity in general.

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Tony Brooker And Autocode – The First High-level Language

The field of computer science has undeniably changed the world for virtually every single person by now. Certainly for you as Hackaday reader, but also for everyone around you, whether they’re working in the field themselves, or are simply enjoying the fruits of convenience it bears. What was once a highly specialized niche field for a few chosen people has since grown into a discipline that not only created one of the biggest industry in modern times, but also revolutionized every other industry, some a few times over.

The fascinating part about all this is the relatively short time span it took to get here, and with that the privilege to live in an era where some of the pioneers and innovators, the proverbial giants whose shoulders every one of us is standing on, are still among us. Sadly, one of them, [Tony Brooker], a pioneer of the early programming language concept known as Autocode, passed away in November. Reaching the remarkable age of 94, the truly sad part however is that this might be the first time you hear his name, and there’s a fair chance you never heard of Autocode either.

But Autocode was probably the first high-level computer language, and as such played a fundamental role in the development of whatever you’re coding in today. So to honor the memory of [Tony Brooker], let’s remember the work he did with Autocode, and the leap in computer science history that it represented.

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Honoring Chuck Peddle; Father Of The 6502 And The Chips That Went With It

Chuck Peddle, the patriarch of the 6502 microprocessor, died recently. Most people don’t know the effect that he and his team of engineers had on their lives. We often take the world of microprocessor for granted as a commonplace component in computation device, yet there was a time when there were just processors, and they were the size of whole printed circuit boards.

Chuck had the wild idea while working at Motorola that they could shrink the expensive processor board down to an integrated circuit, a chip, and that it would cost much less, tens of dollars instead of ten thousand plus. To hear Chuck talk about it, he got a cease-and-desist letter from the part of Motorola that made their living selling $14,000 processor boards and to knock off all of the noise about a $25 alternative.

In Chuck’s mind this was permission to take his idea, and the engineering team, elsewhere. Chuck and his team started MOS Technologies in the 1970’s in Norristown PA, and re-purposed their work on the Motorola 6800 to become the MOS 6502. Lawsuits followed.

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