Archive for February, 2018

Sexual Harrassment

Thursday, February 15th, 2018

Like many industries, publishing is going through a massive reckoning over serial sexual assault and harrassment. Articles, forums, and comments sections are filling up with women who are finding the courage and support to step forward and call out the creepy, awful behavior they have experienced from other authors, editors, publishers, illustrators, convention organizers, and more. I have always believed that you should believe a woman who says she’s been harassed, so I believe these women, too.

And then I was accused of being a harasser.

And then the same woman recanted her accusation.

I do not know who this woman is, as she posted anonymously both times, but I want to take this opportunity to pubicly accept her apology, and to thank her for coming forward.

But here’s the thing: I believed her. Obviously I didn’t believe that I had assaulted someone and then forgotten about it, or anything ridiculous like that. But I was–and am–willing to believe that without intending to and without noticing I had done something to make a woman feel uncomfortable or unwelcome or unsafe. I always try to do my best, but what if I made an off-color joke, or an accidental insinuation? My position as a podcaster and instructor puts me in a lot of conversations with aspiring authors asking for help and advice–what if I implied, even without realizing it, that my help and advice was contingent on some kind of unsavory quid pro quo? This woman claimed to have quit writing because of me, and I never want to be the reason that someone leaves this industry or community. I could have raged against the injustice of this comment–and to be perfectly honest, a part of me did–but the more useful, more helpful response was to sit down and take a good hard look at myself and my actions. What have I been doing, and what can I do in the future, to make the conventions I attend and the spaces I inhabit safer for other people?

Recanted accusation or not, I found some stuff I need to work on. Not a long history of abusive behavior, but a tune-up on boundaries, and on thinking before I speak.

I want to urge everyone to take the same look. We live in a society where aggressive, uncomfortable behavior is so commonplace that it can often be invisible–at least to the perpetrators. The #MeToo movement is shining a light on the many ways in which people are mistreated, and I hope that the women and men with sincere issues continue to come forward, but their actions are not going to create the necessary changes on their own; the onus is on us–mostly men in positions of power–to do our part as well. We need to examine the ways we act in public spaces. We need to think about other people, and the impact we can have on them, before we speak and act. And we need to use our positions of authority and power to lift people up instead of keeping them down. I’m going to try to be better. Who’s with me?

I also want to address the #ImOut movement very quickly before I finish. There is a growing group of people declaring that #MeToo has gotten out of hand, and turned into a witch hunt, and that no one should be able to point an anonymous finger and end a person’s career. I have two things to say about that:
1) Somebody pointed an anonymous finger at me, and I’m fine. The careers that are being destroyed are doing so under an avalanche of specific details and corroborating witnesses–people are definitely eager to punish misconduct right now, but most of them are smart enough to see the difference between one anonymous comment and a massive group of staunch accusers. Most of the authors going down right now were considered “open secrets” in the kidlit community, with dozens if not hundreds of testimonies against them. The organizations who are rescinding memberships and speaking engagements, and the publishers who are rescinding contracts, are not doing it lightly, and they are not pulling out those big guns for unconfirmed and unsubstantiated claims.
2) On the other hand, this is a clear opportunity to acknowledge, again, my position of power. I’m an established author with a strong career and firm allies, and I can weather this storm better than others. Charlie Pulsipher, the other author falsely accused along with me, hasn’t yet had time to build the same foundation, and may well be suffering more than I am. With him, and with me, and with any creator you see being accused of harassment, I urge you to do the same thing that the publishing bigwigs are doing: believe the women, take them seriously, and look for corroborating opinions and evidence. If the accusation is real, you will find them. If it’s not, you’ll find that, too. A history of trying to do the right thing will speak just as loudly as a history of misconduct you thought was kept hidden.

And it goes without saying, but: don’t accuse people falsely. For crying out loud. It hurts innocent people, and it makes it harder for the true problems to be identified and dealt with, which, in turn, hurts more innocent people.

The changes in our society right now are painful, but they are important, and I believe that we will be stronger on the other side. Believe women. Be better. Do better. Try harder. A community full of safe and happy people of all genders is far more important than whatever long-standing habits you might need to change to make others feel welcome. We can do this, and our community–and the world–will be better for it.

Margaret Hamilton

Monday, February 12th, 2018

The second book in the Mirador series, ONES AND ZEROES, is dedicated to Margaret Hamilton. You may know her from this photo, which gets passed around the Internet a lot:

That’s Hamilton standing next to the source code for the Apollo mission, which she coded herself, and which is credited not only with landing the astronauts on the moon but saving their lives in the process. Along the way, she invented modern software, coined the term “software engineering,” and in 2016 was awarded the Presidential Medal of Honor: the highest award a civilian can receive from the American government. In short, she’s amazing.

This morning I got an email from a “70-year-old retired computer guy.” With his permission, I share portions of that email here, because it shines an even brighter light on one of the heroes of modern technology:

I am just starting ONES AND ZEROES and I read your wonderful dedication. I am in a position to provide some additional information. Here goes –

The first computer I wrote code for was an IBM 7094. It is a slightly souped up version of the 7090 that was featured in the movie and book [editor’s note: Hidden Figures]. Let me acquaint you with some of its technical specifications.

It had 32,768 words of “ferrite core” memory. A word was 36 bits long and could be divided into 6 6-bit characters. (The machine also supported “integer” and “floating point” arithmetic.) This is the bit-for-bit equivalent of 144 KB of RAM. On a character-for-character basis, it is equivalent to 192 KB. The original Apple II and the Commodore 64 each had 64 KB of RAM. So it had more RAM than those boxes. But when I bought my first IBM PC in 1981 I opted to add something called an AST “6-pack” card. This allowed me to have 256 KB of RAM. So my first PC had more memory than did a 7090/7094.

Ferrite core memory (tiny magnetic donuts with wires strung through them by hand) was quite slow. The clock time was typically quoted as 2,000 microseconds (1/500th of a second). That is memory speed but processor speed was comparable. And when IBM announced the first “System 360” computers in 1964 for delivery in 1965 the price they quoted for memory was a dollar per byte. So the stuff was frightfully expensive back then.

The machine came with a nice “FORTRAN 4” compiler. FORTRAN is still the go to language for engineering/scientific work. So NASA is still running a lot of FORTRAN and I’m sure Ms. Hamilton cranked out quite a bit of it her day. You could also write programs in “machine language” or “machine code” (the same thing). In that case you used a program called MAP (Macro-Assembly Program).

My point in all this is to give you even more of a flavor of how hard it was for her to do what she did. She had to write tight (not much memory to deal with) fast (the machine was probably slower than your first home computer) code with very little in the way of tools and aids. And she couldn’t write just one program. It would have been too big to fit. She probably had to write dozens, perhaps hundreds of programs. And, as you said, they HAD to work. Lives (and the prestige of the U. S.) depended on it.

So I applaud your choice. And I too have a soft spot for the other Margaret Hamilton.

And if you are interested in women in computing, especially in the early days, check out Grace Murray Hopper. She is every bit as interesting as Margaret Hamilton. Here’s just one of dozens of Hopper stories –

She was working with a team of people back in the vacuum tube days of computers. As I said, vacuum tubes are essentially high tech light bulbs. And computers of the time used thousands of them. And like light bulbs they occasionally burn out. With so many, “occasionally” turned out to be something like once per day. So a necessary tool back in the day was a dental mirror. It would be used to poke into tight spaces looking for dark tubes. One day Hopper was using a dental mirror to hunt down a problem. She found not a dark tube but a moth. The moth had died of electrocution brought on by bridging the gap between two contacts. Hopper removed the moth thus restoring the computer to health. She then pasted the moth into the log book kept to document the operation of the machine and added an explanation of what had happened. And that’s why software errors are now called “bugs”.

The Mirador series is about girls who are gamers, coders, and hackers, so I’ve taken the opportunity with each book to dedicate them to some of the amazing women in tech. The first book was Hedy Lamar, the second was Hamilton, and now for the third I really wracked my brain, trying to come up with the perfect choice. I considered Grace Hopper, as mentioned above; I considered Katherine Johnson, newly famous thanks to HIDDEN FIGURES; I considered all kinds of women in all kinds of fields. Eventually, though, I went back to the beginning: not just the first woman to write a computer program, but the first human being to write one. She was so far ahead of the game that computers didn’t even technically exist yet–she wrote a full program for a hypothetical device theorized by Charles Babbage.

Ada Lovelace, this one’s for you.