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Rediscovering WWII's Top-Secret Computing 'Rosies'

Roblimo posted more than 3 years ago | from the better-65-years-late-than-never dept.

Math 113

An anonymous reader writes "Women were recruited to do ballistics calculations and program computers during WWII. Half a century later, their work is only beginning to get recognition." Some of that recognition is in the form of a documentary film released in 2010 titled Top Secret Rosies.

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That's what he said (-1, Offtopic)

Wolfling1 (1808594) | more than 3 years ago | (#35147768)

I told them to 'F'ing hire a screamer' not 'F'up Hiroshima'. Jeeeee-sus!!!

50 years? (0, Flamebait)

mcphja2 (661835) | more than 3 years ago | (#35147782)

I think we should look up some of these women to helps calculate how long ago WWII was.

Re:50 years? (1)

c0lo (1497653) | more than 3 years ago | (#35147802)

TFA reading may help, but not much:

Half a century later, their work is only beginning to get recognition

It was 2003 and Erickson was interviewing sisters Shirley Blumberg Melvin and Doris Blumberg Polsky for her documentary,

2003-1945=58
8/50 - only 16% off - good enough for a male mind.

Re:50 years? (1)

Canazza (1428553) | more than 3 years ago | (#35148532)

2003-1939=64, 28% off.

Re:50 years? (2)

c0lo (1497653) | more than 3 years ago | (#35148618)

Didn't I say to RTFA may help? Yes, I did.

Jean Jennings Bartik was one of the women computers. In 1945, she was a recent graduate of Northwest Missouri State Teachers College, the school's one math major. She lived on her parents' farm, refusing the teaching jobs her father suggested, avoiding talk of marrying a farmer and having babies. Bartik was waiting on a job with the military. When a telegram arrived asking her to come right away, she took a late-night train and began new career in Philadelphia.

Besides, the US entered the WWII in 1942 if I'm not mistaken.

Jobs like this started before war? (2)

perpenso (1613749) | more than 3 years ago | (#35151184)

Besides, the US entered the WWII in 1942 if I'm not mistaken.

Pearl Harbor was attacked on Dec 7, 1941 and war was declared on Japan the next day. War was declared on Germany and italy a few days later after they declared.

However the US build up to war had been going on for years. This includes modernizing the army and navy, instituting the draft, ramping up military production, etc. "New" war jobs computing ballistic tables and such could have been created years before actual fighting and declarations of war.

Re:50 years? (0)

ILuvRamen (1026668) | more than 3 years ago | (#35147820)

and to prove that doing math didn't make their ovaries shrink, which I believe was scientific "fact" back then lol.

Re:50 years? (1)

fregare (923563) | more than 3 years ago | (#35148032)

I read hook up. I guess I am sleepy at 3 AM.

Common practice (4, Informative)

Chris Mattern (191822) | more than 3 years ago | (#35147810)

Of course people had to these calculations back then; calculating machines that could do it were yet to be developed. The people hired to do it were almost invariably women. _When Computers Were Human_ (http://www.amazon.com/When-Computers-Human-David-Grier/dp/0691133824/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1297235612&sr=8-1) is a good book on the subject, although it doesn't limit itself to WWII.

Re:Common practice (1)

dotancohen (1015143) | more than 3 years ago | (#35148190)

Of course people had to these calculations back then; calculating machines that could do it were yet to be developed.

Mentats?

Gloria Gordon Bolotsky - ENIAC "Rosie" (4, Informative)

Joren (312641) | more than 3 years ago | (#35148218)

Randomly saw this article from 2009 a few minutes before seeing this Slashdot story. Seems she had quite the career:

"Gloria Gordon Bolotsky [washingtonpost.com] was a gifted mathematician who, after working for the Brooklyn Navy Yard in New York, moved to the University of Pennsylvania for a position at its engineering school. She was chosen for a secret project that would use her skills and moved with the group in 1947 to the Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland."

Re:Common practice (3, Informative)

AmiMoJo (196126) | more than 3 years ago | (#35148482)

Even when the first computer became available (Colossus) it was mostly operated by women. This is quite a well documented fact and indeed the role of women in WW2 in general is seen as a major advancement for them. There were female code breakers at Bletchley Park and their role has been the subject of more than one documentary.

Re:Common practice (3, Funny)

oldhack (1037484) | more than 3 years ago | (#35149044)

I was told by an old-timer that many early programmers were females writing COBOL code. Not sure of its veracity, although COBOL's verbosity suggests it's plausible.

Re:Common practice (1)

JerryQ (923802) | more than 3 years ago | (#35149338)

Captain Grace Hopper (later Admiral) defined COBOL.

Re:Common practice (1)

AmiMoJo (196126) | more than 3 years ago | (#35149968)

And even before that Ada Lovelace was probably the first computer programmer.

Operated by women with family in combat ? (2)

perpenso (1613749) | more than 3 years ago | (#35151306)

Even when the first computer became available (Colossus) it was mostly operated by women.

Its been decades since I read a book on it, but I recall something about Bletchley hiring a special type of woman. Besides the obvious technical skills they also selected women with an immediate family members in front line combat units. With a son/father/husband/brother in harms way the military expected women to take security very seriously.

Re:Common practice (2)

Runaway1956 (1322357) | more than 3 years ago | (#35148490)

Oh - really. The people hired to do the calcs were almost invariably women. So - how do you explain all the naval gunnery? No women aboard ships back then. And, believe me, many of those gun plot and gunnery crews were dead on target, all the time. Never missed. Many engagements were decided by who saw whom first, because there was no opportunity for a second salvo. You will also note that few Army and Air Force gunners can hit naval targets. There are to many variables, for which they are unprepared. Go NAVY!! Go MARINES!! Go UDT and/or SEALS too!! (and no, that last isn't a mistake - I know both UDT and SEALS, and I know a couple of them who were both) I could tell you a few sea stories - but I know you youngsters get bored easily . . . Oh, matter of fact, we shot 99% all the time. Never a 98, never a 100 - always 99% even when the computers went down due to heat. If you need me to explain why we never shot 100%, I'll refer you to ancient superstitions held by many peoples, including seafarers.

Re:Common practice (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35148806)

In a word: What?

Re:Common practice (2)

whitehaint (1883260) | more than 3 years ago | (#35148968)

Umm, you know that there were very few (less than 10?) ship to ship battles in WWII right? And even fewer had battleships exchanging gunfire. Oh don't forget radar helped quite a bit with targeting. The women did trajectory tables, something that applies on land or sea. For a given angle and velocity a parabolic arc will be described given all variables are the same (a rocking ship just makes it a little tougher).

Naval gunnery occurred far more often ... (2)

perpenso (1613749) | more than 3 years ago | (#35151618)

Umm, you know that there were very few (less than 10?) ship to ship battles in WWII right? And even fewer had battleships exchanging gunfire.

Naval gunnery occurred far more often than you suggest, its not specific to battleships. Cruisers and destroyers engaged in many "gun fights". Perhaps one of the more famous areas for such combat was around Guadalcanal.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iron_Bottom_Sound [wikipedia.org]

Re:Common practice (3, Insightful)

Chris Mattern (191822) | more than 3 years ago | (#35151136)

So - how do you explain all the naval gunnery?

They weren't on the ships. The gunners on the ships, who were indeed men, in the days before you had artillery computers (machines) had charts and tables to look up the answers in. Books of them. Who calculated those charts and tables? Women in offices hired for the task. This was the standard procedure for solving numerical problems in the days before calculating machines (slide rules were only good for about three significant digits--fine for an estimate, but no good for work that required more accuracy. Also, pre-computed references were better for involved calculations for specialized purposes (like artillery ranging)). My dad got his degree in mechanical engineering back in the '50s; I still have his slide rule--and his book of mathematical tables.

Re:Common practice (1)

ISoldat53 (977164) | more than 3 years ago | (#35151934)

The gunnery tables were similar to the site reduction tables use in celestial navigation.

Re:Common practice (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35155342)

Some of those tables those women worked on also were the basis of the engineering that went into mechanical or electromechanical computers that were around back then. The solution data from ballistic tables would be arrived at via gearing ratios, sets of cams, and switching through various electrical contacts or potentiometers combined with clever use of relays and stepper motors or vacuum tube circuitry. I'd also suspect that many women worked on the assembly and validation testing of such computers to ensure they'd give correct results for a given set of inputs before they went out to the shipyards and such. I'd presume those were considered to be pretty damn high-tech and high-clearance jobs back in the day.

The machines worked sort of like this: turn one crank until the a dial points at the range, then another crank until a dial indicates wind speed, then perhaps some others for things like wind direction, ship's speed and heading, and bearing towards the target, etc. (On some electromechanical ones, some variables for the firing solution could also be obtained in real-time automatically from elsewhere on the ship such as engine bells/RPM, range feed from the radar room, and anemometer readings from up on the mast.) When all is said and done, the gunners would look at another set of dials and/or lights indicating numbers giving the direction and elevation which you should point your cannons (some could even automatically use the feed from the targeting computer to aim - the gun only being crewed for redundancy) and perhaps how many powder charges you should put behind the shells when loading the cannon. Because of such technology, it wasn't entirely necessary to know how to read a table to arrive at a correct firing solution. (Not that they didn't keep some as a backup.) As long as the input variables or correct, you didn't have to worry about mistakes that could happen by being off by a grid two when quickly looking at a chart and problems that could occur with verbal communication on a noisy and busy shipboard environment.

Whats amazing is that these things (when calibrated and in good working order) would let a gunnery crew hit their mark within the first two shots or so. If the first one missed, it's already in the ballpark enough that a visual spotter could easily provide the correction needed for the next salvo. Because they worked as well as they did, it's interesting to find out more about the people behind such systems.

Sailors did not do full calculations by hand ... (2)

perpenso (1613749) | more than 3 years ago | (#35151502)

Oh - really. The people hired to do the calcs were almost invariably women. So - how do you explain all the naval gunnery? No women aboard ships back then.

The sailors did not do calculations by hand. They had mechanical calculating devices that calculated a targeting solution. The sailors set relative bearing, distance, speed, etc of targets and the machines did the calculations. If sailors were doing hand calculations, there were expected to fight even if the fancy calculating machine was inoperable, they were using shortcuts such as data tables. They were not doing the full calculations from the most primitive inputs. These data tables were what the women on dry land were calculating.

Re:Common practice (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 3 years ago | (#35152922)

And, believe me, many of those gun plot and gunnery crews were dead on target, all the time. Never missed.

No, I don't believe you. (But then I've studied Big Gun fire control.) There's considerable slop in the system, and that's why they had methods of correcting their fire, like ladder fire. That's why, as late as the redeployment of the Iowa's in the 1980's they were doing things like adding radars (to track the speed of a fired shell and feed that back as a correction) and experimenting with laser rangefinders (to supplement the optical and radar ones.)
 

Many engagements were decided by who saw whom first, because there was no opportunity for a second salvo.

The only instance I can recall offhand that was even close to that was Bismark vs. Hood at the Battle of Denmark Straight - and that was Bismark's fifth salvo. (And today it's thought that was more luck, a Golden Bullet, more than anything else.)
 

Oh, matter of fact, we shot 99% all the time.

That's a gunner score vs.a target - which tells you pretty much nothing about how a given salvo would effect an actual target. I've seen the CEP plots from several of New Jersey's exercises - and they aren't pretty. One or two rounds that might have been on target, alone with multiple over's, under's, and shots scattered to the left and right of the target bearing. (That's the main reason that BB design emphasized speed of firing and ammunition capacity for the main guns.)

Re:Common practice (1)

GooberToo (74388) | more than 3 years ago | (#35153410)

Nice to see someone that knows what the hell they are talking about.

As for the "first to sight" rule which was being addressed, that really stems from entry of aircraft carriers. Meaning, the first to be sighted was frequently the first to be sunk. I never heard of it being applied outside of that context.

Time in flight for an artillery shell ranges widely. I've heard numbers ranging from 10 - 60 seconds with something like 30 seconds on average. Any object in the air that long is subject to wind and likely wind from many different directions and speed during its time in air. To say they were scattered is an understatement.

Even modern, land based artillery can miss its target by several hundred yards. That is, after all, why guided shells has been such a boon for artillery. [youtube.com] And even with active guidance, accuracy within 4m is considered excellent.

Now combine a ship on water which adds much instability to accuracy, plus the various wind patterns which are frequently associated with water meeting land and what is traditionally fairly long distances, a fairly primitive ballistic computers, no guided munitions, and much larger variations in powder than we have today, anyone who says battleships were 99% accurate is completely delusional. And that's why artillery was not uncommon to rain down on those who called it in.

Re:Common practice (2)

slashchuck (617840) | more than 3 years ago | (#35149894)

In the late 60's a Fortune 500 corporation, that ran a chain of over 3,000 retail stores, needed to calculate annually the bonuses to be paid to the store managers.

To do the calculations they used a room-full of Comptometers [wikipedia.org] operated by dozens of women.

The process took as long as a week to complete.

WHAT!?? SHE NEVER HEARD ABOUT IT (4, Funny)

nzap (1985014) | more than 3 years ago | (#35147830)

From TFA: >>"I said 'What are you talking about?' " Erickson recalled. "I'm an amateur women's historian, but I'd never heard about this"

I'm shocked and amazed, if even an amateur historian hasn't heard about this, it must be an amazing discovery

Re:WHAT!?? SHE NEVER HEARD ABOUT IT (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35148506)

What does being an amateur have do with anything? She is a woman, they don't know anything ;)

Re:WHAT!?? SHE NEVER HEARD ABOUT IT (5, Interesting)

cptdondo (59460) | more than 3 years ago | (#35149316)

You're going for funny, but the women were mostly treated like crap by the military brass once the war ended. Look up the history of the female test pilots and trainers. They were typically given the worst jobs, many died on the job, and at the end of the war they got a pink slip and no recognition or benefits. The men OTOH were given parades, VA benefits, pensions, you name it.

It's a pretty shitty part of US history and I'm glad that someone is finally recognizing the role of women in early technology.

Re:WHAT!?? SHE NEVER HEARD ABOUT IT (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 3 years ago | (#35153196)

Well, no, he's stating the truth - the role of these women has been known among real historians for years. Erickson is an idiot for making the assumption that since she had never heard of it, nobody else had either.

Your statements about their treatment post war, while factually correct, are irrelevant to that.

Re:WHAT!?? SHE NEVER HEARD ABOUT IT (1)

rhyder128k (1051042) | more than 3 years ago | (#35153474)

And men were conscripted into the war as soldiers just because they were men. Your assessment is one sided.

Assembly line workers, and nothing more. (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35147846)

These are not the calculations or research work that you are trying to make it seem. This is not the work that was done by Researcher likes Feynman and others, the "calculations" they did were simple assembly line work level. Literally, they sat around a table in long rows one would add a number pass the calculation to the next, then the next would multiply... They deserve no mention, unless you will start mentioning all the farmers and shoe makers as well, which provided the food and shoes for the soldiers during WWII.

Re:Assembly line workers, and nothing more. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35147886)

But they're women!

Re:Assembly line workers, and nothing more. (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35149684)

Well, the farmers and shoemakers who "provided the food and shoes for the soldiers" do deserve a mention. Indeed, the women who laboured on the farms of Britain during the War (the so-called "land girls") get mentioned all the time. So why not the female computers? Their "assembly line work" helped the Allies beat the Axis forces as did that of the land girls.

No in fact (4, Informative)

ObsessiveMathsFreak (773371) | more than 3 years ago | (#35150168)

This is not the work that was done by Researcher likes Feynman and others, the "calculations" they did were simple assembly line work level.

As a matter of fact, this is exactly what Richard Feynman worked on during his time in Los Alamos during the development of the atomic bomb.

Feynman was in charge of a team of human computers, calculating expect bomb yields from theoretical equations or the like. They were using simple mechanical calculators to aid the process, but were otherwise simply "assembly line workers" as you put it. However, it turned out that simply regarding them in that way was not the best way to go about things. Feynman though they should be told what they were working on....


Then they came to work, and what they had to do was work on IBM machines-punching holes, numbers that they didn't understand. Nobody told them what it was. The thing was going very slowly. I said that the first thing there has to be is that these technical guys know what we're doing. Oppenheimer went and talked to the security and got special permission so I could give a nice lecture about what we were doing, and they were all excited: "We're fighting a war! We see what it is!" They knew what the numbers meant. If the pressure came out higher, that meant there was more energy released, and so on and so on. They knew what they were doing.

Complete transformation! They began to invent ways of doing it better. They improved the scheme. They worked at night. They didn't need supervising in the night; they didn't need anything. They understood everything; they invented several of the programs that we used.

So my boys really came through, and all that had to be done was to tell them what it was. As a result, although it took them nine months to do three problems before, we did nine problems in three months, which is nearly ten times as fast.

My guess is that a study of the history of human computers is likely to shed light on where many of our more esoteric computational algorithms originated from. There's probably an unwritten history of mathematical discovery that took place in these basements and number assembly lines.

Re:No in fact (2)

t3j4n4 (1351129) | more than 3 years ago | (#35152852)

Actually the history is written -- if you get an old Dover edition of Abramowitz and Stegun or older, you'll notice that the bylines on each chapter where the properties of various special functions are developed on the basis of asymptotic analysis, and they are almost all the names of the women who did this work. Disturbingly, the NIST's latest revision of A&S has redacted these womens' names. As an aside, when I was working on some of the earliest versions of Maple and visiting the guys up in Waterloo to lend a hand, their implementations of the various special functions were right out of A&S -- they basically worked through it cover to cover, implementing various parts of it. So it was pretty influential stuff for "assembly line work" lol.

Re:Assembly line workers, and nothing more. (2)

t3j4n4 (1351129) | more than 3 years ago | (#35152788)

You're showing your ignorance here. A quick reading of Abramowitz and Stegun (that's *IRENE* Stegun) would enlighten you that, because the calculations were carried out by hand, a large number of algebraic approximations to special functions using asymptotic analysis for various parameter ranges were actually developed by the women doing the work. You'll notice their names in the bylines of each chapter. The use of special functions and asymptotic analysis of course goes beyond just optimizing hand calculations -- a lot of the optimizations used to implement special and algebraic functions in science and engineering libraries (e.g. NAG, IMSL) go back to Abramowitz and Stegun and beyond. Furthermore the use of special functions in the spectral solutions to ordinary and partial differential equations are made a lot easier by the work these women did. For example, Donna Elbert, as a graduate student of Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar (who later went on to win the Nobel Prize in Physics), determined the zeroes of the modified Bessel functions in support of his ground-breaking work in the hydrodynamic and hydromagnetic stability of fluids in self-gravitating spherical shells (e.g the sun, the earth's outer core) using asymptotic analysis, which is, last time I took a course in it, usually reserved for upper-level engineering mathematics and first-year graduate students in mathematical physics. I'd hardly call it "assembly line work."

Not new (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35147882)

More films about computer history are a good thing. But it's not accurate for the original poster to say "their work is only beginning to get recognition" .... maybe the subject was new to the film maker, but historians have been writing about this for decades.

Too much focus on the USA (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35147924)

First much to thank their effort.
We also need to remember that of the effort in the British Commonwealth and especially those in the United Kingdom who worked from the beginning starting a little after 1939 to the end.

Re:Too much focus on the USA (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35148056)

no, no one gives a shit about you. shut up faggot.

Re:Too much focus on the USA (0)

Runaway1956 (1322357) | more than 3 years ago | (#35148504)

Are you gay, or are you trying to offer the English guy a cigarette? Probably neither - your tone of voice makes you sound like a rude sumbitch, and nothing more.

Re:Too much focus on the USA (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35149380)

Did the British Commonwealth have trouble treating its women right, too? I think that's sort of what this story is about - recognizing women who didn't get the recognition they deserved at the time.
I am very thankful to _everyone_ who fought for our freedom.

My grandma the programmer. (1)

StickInTheMud94 (1127619) | more than 3 years ago | (#35152218)

I like to think of my grandmother as the first member of my family to have programmed a computer. My grandmother worked with a team of women on an electro-mechanical computer during WWII as part of an anti-aircraft battery. She mentioned that there were six input stations and that her job was to ensure that the information received from a form of radar (and other inputs?) was fed into the system and to perform a quick calculation to help validate the output. After turning some dials, numbers were relayed to the gunners (verbally, I believe). Before D-Day her AA unit was stationed in England and a few months later moved into Belgium. Her unit was there until near the very end of the war in Europe.

She was 19 when she joined. Apparently she was assigned the job due to her scores on aptitude tests. She met my grandfather in that artillery unit; he was her sergeant.

My high school teacher was one (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35148062)

I went to high school in the late 1970's, just when the electronic calculator was becoming commercially viable. The head of our high school math department was a woman who also taught the linear algebra class. At that point she was in her 50s, and she liked to tell students her story of being a "calculator" during WW II, when she was fresh out of college. That's back when "arrays" were actual arrays of desks, one "calculator" in each performing one calculation on paper, passing the result to other calculator desks near her, getting results from others, then continuing the calculation with the newly received numbers for the next iteration.

To this day when I'm programming a parallel physical model, I think of her saying "I was a calculator" and smiling at our bewildered faces. I'm glad to hear she's being remembered this way.

 

Re:My high school teacher was one (1)

Asic Eng (193332) | more than 3 years ago | (#35149040)

Well, it's certainly an interesting story, and hard work does deserve respect. On the other hand, I'm not sure why TFA seems to think special recognition was somehow needed for this particular group. Plenty of people worked hard during war time - be it in factories, in agriculture or in desk jobs. You can be far removed from any physical danger and still make a significant contribution to the war effort, that's understood.

However recognition is usually given to those who directly put their lives and limbs on the line. Which seems quite reasonable, really.

Re:My high school teacher was one (1)

whereiswaldo (459052) | more than 3 years ago | (#35149422)

However recognition is usually given to those who directly put their lives and limbs on the line. Which seems quite reasonable, really.

You also have to remember the rate at which men were dying in battle. Just fucking staggering. :(

Re:My high school teacher was one (2)

OutOfMyTree (810249) | more than 3 years ago | (#35149432)

Umm. We might be able to retain more lives and limbs if we celebrate brains as a way of winning wars.

Re:My high school teacher was one (1)

perpenso (1613749) | more than 3 years ago | (#35151782)

Umm. We might be able to retain more lives and limbs if we celebrate brains as a way of winning wars.

Why? Brains have given us ever more devastating weapons that require fewer people and effort to operate? Gatling/machine guns, poison gas, etc were all thought up by "brains" to reduce the casualties. Things didn't quite work out as expected. Atomic weapons are sort of the exception, so far.

Re:My high school teacher was one -- Patented? (1)

grouch (134490) | more than 3 years ago | (#35149048)

Thank you for that very interesting anecdote. Please repeat it each time someone argues in favor of software patents.

Pick any purely software patent, get a gang of patent lawyers to translate it to some human-comprehensible language (such as C, ADA, etc.), then have someone "skilled in the art" of programming run a program representative of the patent's claims, except run it using a group of high school math teachers with pencils and paper instead of using a "digital computer".

If it involves a GUI, just ask the nearest kindergarten class to bring crayons to mark dots on a big piece of paper on the wall.

Is this patented yet?

Two Thumbs Up (1)

thePrime0 (1988674) | more than 3 years ago | (#35148074)

Very Cool. Seems incomprehensible that women would still receive decades of discrimination in the workplace after such feats; if the military trusted their intellect for such delicate matters, why couldn't everyone else? On a lighter note, what has been the replacement for our wartime programming? Martians?

Re:Two Thumbs Up (-1, Flamebait)

aXis100 (690904) | more than 3 years ago | (#35148124)

Women aren't being discriminated in the workplace - at least not in the way that feminists think..... it's just that they are a pain in the arse to work with/for and subsequently aren't as successfull.

*puts on flame suit *

Re:Two Thumbs Up (1)

serviscope_minor (664417) | more than 3 years ago | (#35148292)

Women aren't being discriminated in the workplace - at least not in the way that feminists think.....

Yes, they pretty much are. The statistics back it up.

it's just that they are a pain in the arse to work with/for and subsequently aren't as successfull.

*puts on flame suit *

Of course you're going to get flamed. You're a sexist douche.

Apparently you've had a bad time working for/with some women. You have taken one or two small anecdotes and generalized to > 50% of the world's population in a way that feeds your prejudice.

Now kindly go to hell.

Re:Two Thumbs Up (4, Interesting)

HungryHobo (1314109) | more than 3 years ago | (#35148450)

Please, please use quotes, since the comment you're replying to is modded to invisibility your post just looks schizophrenic.

Anyway, when it comes to the pay...as with most things in life the phrase "it's a little more complicated that that" applies.

women do tend to get paid slightly less.

Women genuinely are less likely to *ask* for more.
I'll dig out the link later but I came across a fascinating study done by an economics professor who looked into the subject in detail.
What prompted her interest was coming across a situation which at first looked like terrible discrimination but turned out to be a little more complicated.
She noticed that of the grad students in the department almost every male was teaching classes and no females were. In academia that's kind of a big deal since it means experience etc etc.
At first glance a simple case of discrimination..... so she went to ask the head of department why he was discriminating against all her female grad students.
And found out the simple reason.
Anyone who'd come to him and asked to teach a class had been given a class to teach.No females had actually asked. The males had.
It wasn't the head of departments fault the women hadn't asked.

So she organised some experiments to look into the phenomenon further.
participants were given a task and at the end were given a small sum of money and asked if they were happy with it.
If they said no got slightly more.
most of the males bargained for more, most of the females did not.

ie: women get less because they ask for less.

but of course still "it's a little more complicated that that" applies.
after even more experiments which included groups who could penalise each other and the opinions of other people was taken into account something else came up.

everyone ( especially women) was more likely to penalise a women who asked for more more than a man who asked for more and their opinions would be more negatively affected by women than men.

so it isn't utterly irrational. Women don't ask for more because they genuinely do get penalised more socially and they themselves penalise people more for the same actions so even when there is no penalty they're less likely to ask for the jobs they want or the extra pay they want.

Re:Two Thumbs Up (1)

Raenex (947668) | more than 3 years ago | (#35151634)

Please, please use quotes

In the same vein, please use proper paragraphs.

Re:Two Thumbs Up (1)

OutOfMyTree (810249) | more than 3 years ago | (#35149418)

Whereas workingwith/for you is all sweetness and light!

Re:Two Thumbs Up (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35148334)

What feats you dumbass? They were doing nothing but redundant assembly line level computations. They were sat in a row, each one were told to do some type of addition, one would do an addition, and pass the results to the second one in the row, the second one would do some simple addition or multiplication, and pass to the next... It's less computational work than a standard assembly line worker did at Ford. You're pathetic.

Re:Two Thumbs Up (1)

thePrime0 (1988674) | more than 3 years ago | (#35150808)

How would you feel if everyone you knew and the society in which you lived oppressed you with ideas that you could only be subservient and only partake in certain "female" activities, then be asked to do something intellectual for a war effort which included risking the lives of people you loved, and then continue to withstand decades of continuing statements that you can't think for yourself or do the things that a man can do? Moreover, it's not just about the type of calculation, but also the weight carried by the calculations. "The weapons trajectories they calculated were passed out to soldiers in the field and bombardiers in the air"; those are some damn important calculations during some difficult times-I don't care how 'simple' you think they were. Would I work on important calculations for an institution that was part of a greater entity which told me I was inept and incapable? Like hell I would. They swallowed a cup of coffee that I wouldn't spit in; that takes a special kind of courage. Who's the dumbass?

Re:Two Thumbs Up (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35148904)

Seems incomprehensible that women would still receive decades of discrimination in the workplace after such feats

Right, because a few women doing some high-school level math gruntwork in a TOP SECRET program is going to magically offset several thousands years of cross-cultural gender bias.

if the military trusted their intellect for such delicate matters, why couldn't everyone else?

Because their task was about the ability to take some numbers, perform some specific mathematic funtions on them, and then pass them to someone else. That doesn't require much intellect at all; anybody with a basic calculus knowledge could do the work.

I'm not sure why everybody acts like women have gone unrecognized for their efforts during the wars, because it's just simply not true at all. If you want a good example, take a look at this article and think about whether you've ever seen that poster or not. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosie_the_Riveter

Depression era unemployment ... (2)

perpenso (1613749) | more than 3 years ago | (#35152252)

Very Cool. Seems incomprehensible that women would still receive decades of discrimination in the workplace after such feats; if the military trusted their intellect for such delicate matters, why couldn't everyone else?

It was not necessarily a matter of trust. Keep in mind that the great depression and massive unemployment did not really end until the ramp up of military spending for WW2. One of the great fears of the time was that when the war ended the US might return to economic depression and high unemployment. They wanted the returning veterans to have more job opportunities so wartime workers were let go, and it was not just the women. Many men who had not served in uniform were considered less desirable.

Some considered making sure returning vets got a job to be part of the "thank you" to those who made the greater sacrifices. Others may have been more practical and thought it better that those who were trained and well practiced in the use of weapons should be employed first. Don't laugh, this was the era of red scares and "communist revolt". The US did not help to rebuild Europe and Japan purely out of generosity and compassion, there was a very strong political stability motivation.

Yes well..... (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35148132)

Its an education thing - nowadays subjects like History and Geography are not seen as "relevant" to a school curriculum and "reading about" at University level isn't such a high priority, when all that is required to graduate is to regurgitate lecture notes and anyway reading gets in the way of drinking, etc, so its not surprising that Erickson had "never heard about this".

And "womens history" is a rather narrow field, it ignores half of humanity at a stroke (apart from casting them as abusers, rapists and general ogres) so the level of ignorance is not surprising.

And of course, the human computors would be organised as a distributed processing system, each responsible for what in effect would be a subroutine in the process that resulted in a complete ballistic computation. Its just repetitive work, after all. My regard would be reserved for the people who produced the work schemes in the first place - they were the real programmers!

And programming ENIAC?

More rote work, wiring up plugboards. Essential but not groundbreaking.

Both men and women performed essential war work at all levels in both Britain and the US. They ALL deserve recognition for a job that shouldn't have needed doing. Singling out an individual group does a disservice to the rest.

Re:Yes well..... (1)

elsurexiste (1758620) | more than 3 years ago | (#35149120)

And "womens history" is a rather narrow field, it ignores half of humanity at a stroke (apart from casting them as abusers, rapists and general ogres) so the level of ignorance is not surprising.

Interesting, even though is a narrow field, they still didn't know about this.

By the way, I agree with the rest of your points.

Re:Yes well..... (2, Insightful)

OutOfMyTree (810249) | more than 3 years ago | (#35149394)

Yes, you are quite right. Singling out only the men (and often only the white men) does us all a great disservice.

Re:Yes well..... (2)

SirWhoopass (108232) | more than 3 years ago | (#35151082)

Yes, you are quite right. Singling out only the men (and often only the white men) does us all a great disservice.

Yes, it does. But wouldn't the proper response be to ensure a history lesson is inclusive of the society, rather than further divide the topic? Otherwise it implies that History is "mens history" and shall remain that way.

Personally, I find that many of the people in such fields are at least a generation behind. Was there a need in the 1960s to explicitly break with convention to look at underrepresented groups? Probably. I don't know. I wasn't born yet. By the time I was in grade school we were certainly being taught about the colonization and exploitation of the American continents by European powers (and, later the US). Slavery. Voting rights. The Civil Rights movement. Etc.

And then some aging hippie professor would come along and act like we didn't know there were people here when Columbus landed. Just because you were taught that shit during the Eisenhower administration doesn't mean that's how I learned it.

Re:Yes well..... (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 3 years ago | (#35152988)

Well, absent your rant, I was going to say pretty much the same thing - the work of these 'computers' in WWII is pretty well known among historians.

Erickson's mistake (and an all too common one, even here on Slashdot) was to believe that since she had never heard of it then nobody else had either.

See also "Harvard Computers" (3, Informative)

tonique (1176513) | more than 3 years ago | (#35148154)

That wasn't the first time women were employed doing calculations. A better known groups is known as "Harvard Computers", where astronomist Edward Pickering hired women to process data. One reason is said to be that women could be paid less than men.

Two well-known women from that group were Annie Jump Cannon and Henrietta Swan Leavitt.

Wikipedia has a short article about them: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harvard_Computers [wikipedia.org]

Mod AC/DC +1 Insightful (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35148192)

Wanna tell you a story
'Bout a woman I know
When it comes to lovin'
Oh she steals the show
She ain't exactly pretty
Ain't exactly small
Forty-two, thirty-nine, fifty-six
You could say she's got it all
Never had a woman
Never had a woman like you
Doing all the things
Doing all the things you do
Ain't no fairy story
Ain't no skin and bone
But you give it all you got
Weighing in at nineteen stone

CHORUS:
You're a whole lotta woman
A whole lotta woman
Whole lotta Rosie x3
And you're a whole lotta woman

Oh honey you can do it
Do it to me all night long
Only one to turn
Only one to turn me on
All through the night time
And right around the clock
To my surprise
Rosie never stops

You're a whole lotta woman
A whole lotta woman
Whole lotta Rosie x3
And you're a whole lotta woman

Oh, and Slashdot coders... HTML OR pre-formatted! Why the hell are you rendering HTML break tags and LFs in the comment box?!

Makes me think of Feynman (5, Informative)

tibit (1762298) | more than 3 years ago | (#35148284)

When Feynman was setting up discretized integrations [google.com] using IBM machines for the Manhattan project, he made a human calculator model for what the IBM kit would do. The girls calculated as fast as the IBM punched-card based system of tabulators, collators, multipliers, adders, etc. In his words:

The only difference was that the IBM machines didn't get tired and could work three shifts. But the girls got tired after a while.

Never mind that he loved being around girls ;)

Re:Makes me think of Feynman (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35152404)

I love being around girls too. In fact, 3 virgins had to be scarified to post this commenHELP US PL!@#$%^

Re:Makes me think of Feynman (1)

t3j4n4 (1351129) | more than 3 years ago | (#35152928)

"Never mind that he loved being around girls ;)" Yah. While he followed Hans Bethe to Cornell and taught there for awhile, he was not offered tenure and in fact let go. The story is that he'd had an affair with a senior faculty member's wife.

The "real" feminists (4, Interesting)

acidradio (659704) | more than 3 years ago | (#35148380)

I think there were a lot of women who worked hard for the war effort who didn't get and who often didn't seek recognition for what they were doing. They were just doing their part to help win the war. My granny worked for the MI6 in London during WW2 as a code cipherer. She worked 18 hr days with a rest day inbetween. None of the men in her job category did such a thing. I think she determined that this made her highly productive and her superiors went for it. She participated in some really amazing stuff and didn't talk about it until the later years of her life.

Nowadays you have a generation of women who call themselves feminists... but are they really? They may be women who work but do they work hard in order to really advance the cause or do they do it so they can have recognition? A degree in Women's Studies doesn't make the world a better place. So many supposed feminists point to Hillary Rodham Clinton as a good role model. Hillary though stood by while her husband cheated on her then wrote a book about it. Would a real feminist do something like that?

Re:The "real" feminists (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 3 years ago | (#35148822)

Hillary though stood by while her husband cheated on her then wrote a book about it. Would a real feminist do something like that?

Politicians are not, by and large, real anything. If you believe that Hilary was ever real, it ended after the failure of the health care package she championed. It tanked, and they never let her talk again until after she took a big wad of big pharma money.

Re:The "real" feminists (1)

OutOfMyTree (810249) | more than 3 years ago | (#35149500)

Have you asked the women around you if they consider themselves feminists? You seem to be counting only a few media figures and not the many women who realise that their wish for more real equality of opportunity makes them feminists.

Re:The "real" feminists (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35150524)

Feminists are against equality. Woman who are for equality aren't feminists.

Re:The "real" feminists (-1, Troll)

Magnus Pym (237274) | more than 3 years ago | (#35150428)

What I personally find maddening is how most of the younger generation of women say `I'm not a feminist', but have no problem laying claim to the outrageous `rights' championed by even the craziest of the radical fringe.

Fathers have no rights, but still owe child support? Of course, that is part of the natural order of things and anyway, he should have kept it in his pants.

Alimony even though it was the woman who left? The jerk deserves it.

Falsely accused of rape of sexual harassment? Well, he may be innocent at this time, but some man somewhere is harassing a women right now, so this punishment can be a deterrent.

Punish women for false rape claims? That will cause a `chilling effect' for other raped women.

A woman who has a privileged upbringing in an upper middle class suburb in the US still needs to benefit from affirmative action at work? Of course, don't you know that women are subjected to ritual gender mutilation in Africa?

And so on and so forth. The `I'm not a feminist' line is trotted out by women in their 20s & 30s who are still interested in attracting men, because they have the sense to know that there are few men dim enough to cast their lot with a self-professed feminist.

Re:The "real" feminists (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35155092)

You love playing the victim card, don't you?

There are some real issues inside that rant, but when you start blaming "women", you are engaging in the same behavior as your targets.

All the men were off fighting the war (2)

PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) | more than 3 years ago | (#35148392)

My mother and father were teenagers in Canada during the war. My father grew up on a farm and ranch. Before the war they always could find "hired hands" during periods where there was a lot to do. After the war started, all able bodied men were off fighting the war, and there were no "hired hands" to be found. My mother was a "city girl," But every day, after school, a bunch of school kids were trucked out to farms to help with the field work. She said that the absence of men opened up a lot of opportunities for women to enter into jobs, that used to be a "men only" club. So this story doesn't surprise me. However, when the war ended, and the men returned, the women were kicked out. Though, my mom was happy that she didn't have to work in the fields anymore.

Re:All the men were off fighting the war (3, Interesting)

Runaway1956 (1322357) | more than 3 years ago | (#35148562)

Now, now - you can't have it both ways. Was your mom "kicked out", or did she willingly head back to the safety and the comfort of the city? My mama was probably - ohhh - I'll guess 5 to 8 years older than your mama. My mama told us very clearly that she was HAPPY when she didn't have to play "Rosie the Riveter" anymore. She WANTED to go home, play house, care for her war hero, raise kids, and all that other feminine stuff. I think that most all of us, male and female, tend to see things from our own perspectives, here, today. We just forget, or gloss over, what real life was like back then.

Re:All the men were off fighting the war (2)

PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) | more than 3 years ago | (#35148742)

or did she willingly head back to the safety and the comfort of the city?

Read the last sentence of my post :-) My father could do a shrill whistle with just his tongue. I need to use two fingers in my mouth. When I asked him about it he answered, "If you spend your whole day shoveling shit, you don't want to put your fingers in your mouth." Neither my father nor my mother enjoyed shoveling shit.

She WANTED to go home, play house, care for her war hero, raise kids, and all that other feminine stuff.

Same with my mom. She worked as a secretary until she got married and pregnant, quit her job, and lived happily thereafter. Now my with my sister, a chemical engineer, it was a whole different ballgame. She couldn't wait to be able to go back full time to work.

We just forget, or gloss over, what real life was like back then.

+5 Insightful. Back then, my sister would not have been studying to be a chemical engineer.

Re:All the men were off fighting the war (2)

OutOfMyTree (810249) | more than 3 years ago | (#35149546)

And we gloss over the reality of the lives of the less fortunate today.

Re:All the men were off fighting the war (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 3 years ago | (#35153106)

Oh, I have no doubt that your mother was glad to go back to being domestic - many women today are perfectly happy being domestic. But it's a grave error to believe that was or is a universal characteristic.

I've known several women over the years that were extremely bitter than when the war ended they lost their 'good' jobs and were forced to go back to being shop girls, or receptionists, or housewives, or farm wives.

Gender aside... (1)

yourtallness (1183449) | more than 3 years ago | (#35148458)

Not trying to sound like a tree-hugging hippie, but did it occur to anyone that despite the fanciness of being involved in the first computing platforms, the Rosies (and all colleagues thereof, regardless of gender) were essentially in the people-killing business?

Granted, the conditions demanded it, but I can't help but find the science of increasing the probability of killing a fellow human with bullets and/or high explosives very disturbing...

Re:Gender aside... (1)

ISoldat53 (977164) | more than 3 years ago | (#35151988)

Kill them before they kill us.

Re:Gender aside... (1)

deadweight (681827) | more than 3 years ago | (#35152222)

Compare 1930 and 1950. I bet the "future" came about 20 years early thanks to the war.

Re:Gender aside... (1)

JSBiff (87824) | more than 3 years ago | (#35154626)

What if the primary mission for a particular artillery assault is to destroy the enemies weapons factories, and weapons stores, to hasten the end of the war, thereby perhaps saving more lives than are lost?

It's all well and good to say that these women were in the business of killing, but sometimes, war comes to you, you don't go looking for war. At that point your options are to fight, or to become a victim.

Put another way, I suppose that from the standpoint of an American, it's better that a German, Italian, or Japanese soldier dies, than that an American soldier dies. You don't have the choice of whether *someone* dies in such a case, you can only influence *who* is/are the ones dieing.

  If you must fight, then it seems to me that the most moral choice is to hit your enemy as devastatingly as you can, as quickly as you can, to try to end the war as soon as you can. If you're going to hit a man, hit him hard enough he doesn't want to get back up and fight again, so to speak. I think in recent times, the expression "Shock and Awe" has been applied to this idea - convince your enemy it's not worth fighting, then you don't have to kill him. (Of course, it's hard to wage a shock and awe campaign against a guerrilla army, so it doesn't apply so much in asymmetric warfare scenarios).

Babbage Engines (2)

David Off (101038) | more than 3 years ago | (#35148584)

While you 'Mercans were using women to do ballistics calculations over this side of the pond we had our purpose built babbage difference engines doing the job [wikipedia.org] automatically. What do you mean, the first babbage engine was only completed in 2002 [computerhistory.org] ? That's even later than the US arrives for wars!!! :-)

Re:Babbage Engines (1)

JTsyo (1338447) | more than 3 years ago | (#35153442)

We've been trying to make up for all the years of wars we missed ever since.

Something forgotten. (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35148596)

Of course, past glories are pleasant to remember -- especially if the war was won; but even so otherwise.

Of course, acknowledgement is important, if not more then at least for the sake of thanking those whose efforst saved our a, erm, lives. This is particularly useful when we realize such important tasks were done by women, who traditionally are scorned as being less endowed as their male equivalents. Obviously this example sets an important illustration of gender irrelevance (in fact, the exact opposite could be argued: that men are more expendable).

But something important is being forgotten: war is wrong. It would be immensely better, if at all possible, to gain the enemy by arguments not weapons; to make losses on our side unnecessary and thus achieve a even better outcome than that victory itself brought. The generations which lived before war could have done a better job at keeping peace. Winning a war is actually an empty victory if seen this way; but perhaps the need for better diplomacy could only have been perceived after losing so many lives.

It's a pity we cannot learn more easily oftentimes.

Re:Something forgotten. (1)

CraftyJack (1031736) | more than 3 years ago | (#35154386)

But something important is being forgotten: war is wrong. It would be immensely better, if at all possible, to gain the enemy by arguments not weapons; to make losses on our side unnecessary and thus achieve a even better outcome than that victory itself brought. The generations which lived before war could have done a better job at keeping peace. Winning a war is actually an empty victory if seen this way; but perhaps the need for better diplomacy could only have been perceived after losing so many lives.

That is a very interesting point of view. Thank you, Neville.

It's a pity we cannot learn more easily oftentimes.

Indeed.

Admiral Grace M. Hopper (1)

Zigmun_Barsac (861070) | more than 3 years ago | (#35149550)

Admiral Hopper was a calculator. She worked on the Harvard Mark 1. She was part of the US Navy's Bureau of Ships ballistic calculation project. I am the proud possessor of one of her nanoseconds.

Re:Admiral Grace M. Hopper (2)

JerryQ (923802) | more than 3 years ago | (#35151374)

So am I, when she was an ambassador for Digital/Dec , she would hand out sachets of ground black pepper, the diameter of each piece was approximately the distance a signal travelled in one nanosecond.

Whodathunkit (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35149862)

I thought women were only good for multiplication!

I have met Jean Bartik (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35150172)

Jean is a very bright and wonderful person. I met her while I was helping to get a Pennsylvania Historic marker at the location in Philadelphia (East Falls) where the UNIVAC computer was built (building is still there). When we had the dedication day all the old veterans from ENIAC and UNIVAC spoke who were still around. Jean is quite a character.

I mentioned this to my wife (1)

microcars (708223) | more than 3 years ago | (#35150748)

and she gave me a really odd look when I said she could do ballistics calculations while doing Yoga.

wife: "It says WWII, not WII"

Pluto Discovery (1)

cratermoon (765155) | more than 3 years ago | (#35151280)

Well before WWII women computers, including one named Elizabeth Williams [flickr.com] were doing significant work like helping discover Pluto, using mechanical aids such as The Millionaire [flickr.com]

My mom was a computer too (1)

RocketRay (13092) | more than 3 years ago | (#35151464)

After the war my mom took her degree in mathematics to Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland where she did this kind of work. She said she'd calculate artillery ballistics. She also told me they processed some of the evidence of atrocities perpetrated by the Nazis, though she wouldn't talk specifics. She turns 89 next week. Happy birthday mom!

Neil Stephenson wrote about this in Cryptonomicon (1)

Darth Technoid (83199) | more than 3 years ago | (#35152078)

Am i imagining this? I recall Stephenson writing about people being "computers", in Cryptonomicon. And, of course, it was largely set in WW II Bletchley Park.

 

Re:Neil Stephenson wrote about this in Cryptonomic (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35153592)

You've been turfed.
The "Rosies" are nothing new. I remember mention of them in a book called "Between Silk and Cyanide".
The only new information here is that LeAnn Erickson directed a documentary about it, and CNN interviewed her about that.

So they were women and computers? (1)

JTsyo (1338447) | more than 3 years ago | (#35153462)

that makes them the earliest cyborgs?

delayed Computer Science degrees at MIT/Stanford (1)

peter303 (12292) | more than 3 years ago | (#35155070)

I dont want to sound sexist, but the early days of computer programming were viewed as a mere trade-school skill, perhaps due to the large participation of women. I remember MIT faculty arguing about whether to have a computer science department or to offer such a major in one of the existing departments in 1960s and 1970s. "There isnt any real research science in the field". "Its just a trade". Ironically all sort of computer science courses popped in each hard science major at MIT, especially in the MIT business department, when it would have made more sense to centralize the discipline. Plus some of the most desirable non-affiliated laboratories on campus were computers science - MAC and A.I. Eventually E.E. offered C.S. as a sub-major (course 6.3) and added the name to the E.E. department title in the 1980s. But it never a department in its own right. Ironically this computing sub-major has had the largest enrollment on campus for the past quarter century, up to 40% of undergraduates at times.

The debate is not over yet. MIT requires all students, even music majors, to take six semesters of calculus and science, pretty much same requirement for the past 50 years. There is a reform proposal to allow students to take a computer course instead of Physics-2, but it hasnt been voted in yet.

Stanford had a similar debate too. But eventally created a full blown computer department in the 1970s.
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