Disrupting The Computer Industry Before it Existed: Rear Admiral Grace Hopper

The feature of being easier to write than assembly is often seen as the biggest advantage of high-level programming languages. The other benefit that comes with them is portability. With high-level languages, algorithms can be developed independently from the underlying hardware. This allows software to live on once the hardware becomes obsolete.

The compiler was a concept that was met with resistance when it was first introduced. This was at a time when computers were custom-built machines bearing individual names like ENIAC, UNIVAC and Mark I. A time when the global demand for computers was estimated to be around five units by the CEO of IBM. In this scenario, it took a visionary to foresee a future where the number of computers would outgrow the number of programmers and hardware would evolve so much faster than software that a compiler would make sense. One visionary was [Grace Hopper].

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Rosalind Franklin Saw DNA First

It’s a standard science trivia question: Who discovered the structure of DNA? With the basic concepts of molecular biology now taught at a fairly detailed level in grade school, and with DNA being so easy to isolate that it makes a good demonstration project for school or home, everyone knows the names of Watson and Crick. But not many people know the story behind one of the greatest scientific achievements of the 20th century, or the name of the scientist without whose data Watson and Crick were working blind: Rosalind Franklin.

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Happy Ada Lovelace Day!

Today is Ada Lovelace Day, a day to celebrate and encourage women in the fields of science and technology. The day is named after Augusta Ada King-Noel, Countess of Lovelace, born Byron. (You can see why we just call her Ada Lovelace.) She was a brilliant mathematician, and the writer of what’s probably the first real computer program — it computed the Bernoulli series. At least according Charles Babbage, in correspondence to Michael Faraday, she was an “enchanted math fairy”. Not only a proto-coder, she wrote almost all of the existing documentation about Babbage’s computation engine. She’s a stellar example of a brilliant and unique individual. If you were looking for a superhero to represent women in science and tech, Ada’s a good pick.

In our minds, she gets stiff competition from Marie Curie. Curie did fundamental research on radioactivity, is one of two people with Nobel Prizes in two different sciences, and got to name the two elements that she discovered. 2011 was the Year of Marie Curie in France and Poland. She has her own year in addition to her own unit. Even Spiderman doesn’t have those radioactive super powers!

Don’t Need Another Hero?

But on a day dedicated to getting more women into the technical arts, it’s also a little bit daunting to pick Lovelace or Curie as a symbol. Are you ever going to have something that equals “first computer program” or “two Nobel Prizes” on your résumé? We aren’t. It’s great to have heroes, but maybe we need more than just heroes — we also need mentors.

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Three of our Favorite Hackers

It’s one thing to pull off a hack, it’s another entirely to explain it so that everyone can understand. [Micah Elizabeth Scott] took a really complicated concept (power glitching attacks) and boiled a successful reverse engineering process into one incredible video. scanlime-power-smoothing-alterationsWe know, watching 30 minutes of video these days is a huge ask, just watch it and thank us later.

She explains the process of dumping firmware from a Wacom tablet by hacking what the USB descriptors share. This involves altering the power rail smoothing circuit, building her own clock control board to work with the target hardware and a ChipWhisperer, then iterating the glitch until she hones in on the perfect attack.

This, of course isn’t her first rodeo. Also known as [scanlime], she’s been on the scene in a big way for a while now. Check out more of her work, and perhaps congratulate her on recently being scooped up for a Principal Researcher role that we’d like to attribute in part to the hacks she’s been demoing online. You should also thank her for being a Hackaday Prize Judge in 2015 and 2016.

led-handbag-debra-ansel-geekmomprojects-closeupThis year we spotted [Debra Ansell] at Maker Faire, not as an exhibitor but an attendee taking her newest creation out in the wild. [Debra’s] LED matrix handbag is a marvel of fabrication — both design and execution are so great it is hard to believe this is not a commercially available product. But no, the one-of-a-kind bag uses woven leather strips spaced perfectly to leave room for WS2812 RGB LED modules to nestle perfectly. Look slike she even posted a tutorial since we last checked! If you don’t recognize her name, you might recognize her company: GeekMomProjects. She’s the person behind EtchABot, a robotic addendum to the diminutive pocket Etch a Sketch which [Debra] sells on Tindie.

troubleshooting-veronica-custom-6502-computer
The custom PCBs of Veronica (in troubleshoot mode)

Our fascination with [Quinn Dunki]’s work goes way way back. She has a software background but her hardware chops are to be admired. Recently we’ve delighted in her efforts to beef up the fabrication abilities of her shop. Want to know how to vet your new drill press — [Quinn] has you covered. We also enjoyed seeing her bring an inexpensive bandsaw up to snuff. There are too many other great hacks from [Quinn Dunki] to start naming them all. We’ll leave you with her amazing work on Veronica, the scratch-built 6502 computer that she brought with her for her Hackaday 10th Anniversary talk. Her avatar at the top is from one of her PCB etching tutorials.

Celebrating Ada Lovelace Day

Today is the second Tuesday in October — it’s Ada Lovelace day, a worldwide celebration of women in science and technology. The hackers above are some of our all-around favorites and we have featured all of their work frequently. Their impact on technology is undeniable, we give them much respect for their skills and accomplishments. We’d love to hear your own favorite examples of women who have incredible game when it comes to hardware hacking. Please let us know in the comments below.