Hidden Figures

Hidden Figures” is one of those must-see motion pictures of 2017–the story of black women who¬†provided essential support as computers for NASA.

In that day, “computer” was a job title for a human who performed calculations on electro-mechanical devices. They were essential to engineering, financial, and other firms because they did the math until machines such as the IBM mainframe depicted in the motion picture took over that work–one of the very first examples of the job displacement by information technology that we now take for granted. By the way, one of the duties of the famous physicist Richard Feynman at Los Alamos was to break complex calculations into parts that could be performed by teams of computers.

It’s both inspiring and hard to watch. Inspiring for what they accomplished as people and as computers and, in one case, as a mathematician. Hard to watch for the society- and government-sanctioned contempt with which they were treated in the America of Jim Crow.

As well as the story, the sets were a stroll through the past of memory–rotary phones with cords, mechanical calculators, the old percolator coffee pot (best way to burn coffee to impotability!), the institutional green glazed tile walls, TVs with rabbit ears, chalk boards, and that particular variety of wall clock that I think was standard in every office and school at least through the 1980s.

 

About Michael Smith

University-level educator in information systems with a background in production planning and inventory control. Proficient in systems analysis and design, project management, relational theory and database design, and programming. Interested in science and technology, education, history, and current events.
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