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January 16, 2008

A Technical Camelot

A Technical Camelot

Yesterday in San Francisco, Apple released its new computer, the MacBook Air. The notebook has an eighty gigabyte hard drive, is a mere three quarters of an inch thick and weighs three pounds. Dick's guest today can certainly put that achievement into perspective. Jean Bartik's first job was as a "computer" - a human one. She went on to help program one of the world's first computers .

Jean always loved math, and she was good at it. But when she was a young woman in the 1940s, there weren't many job opportunities for female math majors. When she heard about a job crunching numbers for a military research project, she jumped at the chance.

Arriving in Philadelphia in 1945, Jean landed in the middle of one of the most exciting times in technological history: she and a small group of women helped program one of the world's first computers - the massive ENIAC. Jean still looks back at those times as the most exciting and important period of her life, but the story of Jean and the women programmers has largely been left out of history.

This story came by way of historian Kathy Kleiman. Twenty years ago, Kathy discovered the story of the unsung women who helped usher in the computer age.  She is now making a documentary about them.

Eco Tinkerer

Patrick Ward has always loved to tinker in his backyard, and he has spent many years dedicated to the idea of ridding himself of his dependence on fossil fuels. He went "off the grid" in 1986, and he began driving a car fueled by biobutanol several years later.

Lots of people go off the grid, but Patrick went one step further when he discovered that algae growing on a local river could produce a fuel for modern vehicles that can completely replace petroleum-based products. Dick talks to Patrick about his fascination with freedom from fossil fuels.


One O'Clock Jump (Count Basie Version) from the album Big Band Sounds: Swing Era 1936-37; Front Burner by Count Basie for the album The Basie Big Band

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