Random Access Minds – Happy Birthday Hedy Lamarr!

November 9 is the birthdate of Hedy Lamarr, and a good day to celebrate women who made their mark in technology. A good day also to wonder what could have prompted women like Kathleen Booth to develop one of the first computer assembly languages when, as another technology pioneer, Erna Hoover, said, “When I was hired, the glass ceiling was somewhere between the basement and the sub-basement.”

So, let’s celebrate just three of the many technology pioneers who happened to be women.

Hedy LamarrHedy Lamarr – Frequency Hopping and your Wi-Fi

Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler was born on November 9, 1914 in Vienna, Austria. By age 18, she was married to Austrian ammunition manufacturer Fritz Mandl, who encouraged her to participate in his professional and social associations with the Austrofascist elite. Also by age 18, Eva Kiesler became known for her role in Ecstasy, a film that shocked for its acknowledgement of female sexuality, similarly to the cognitive dissonance that to this day accompanies the combination of beauty and brains.

Soon after Ecstasy, Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler, escaped her fascist milieu, went from Paris to Hollywood, and took the name of Hedy Lamarr. From the late 1930s to the late 1950s, Hedy Lamarr had a successful film career. She also decided during the 1940s to contribute to a solution to detection by enemy forces of radio-guided torpedoes. The knowledge of fascist plans and operations she acquired during her marriage to Fritz Mandl served her well.

“During World War II, Lamarr learned that radio-controlled torpedoes, which could be important in the naval war, could easily be jammed, thereby causing the torpedo to go off course. With the knowledge she had gained about torpedoes from her first husband, she thought of creating a frequency-hopping signal that could not be tracked or jammed. She contacted her friend, composer and pianist George Antheil, to help her develop a device for doing that, and he succeeded by synchronizing a miniaturized player-piano mechanism with radio signals. They drafted designs for the frequency-hopping system, which they patented.”

U.S. Patent 2,292,387 “Secret Communications System” was awarded to Lamarr (under her married name Hedy Kiesler Markey) and Antheil in 1942. Although the Navy at the time turned down the idea, probably because it could not conceive of torpedoes being guided by player-piano rolls, years later more random minds understood the basic usefulness of the principle of frequency hopping. The system eventually contributed to the development of spread-spectrum technology, the basis of today’s of wireless communications.

Ada Lovelace

Ada Lovelace – the First Programmer

Augusta Ada Byron, born in 1815, was the daughter of poet Lord George Gordon Byron and Lady Anne Isabella Milbanke. The couple separated soon after Ada was born, and Ada was raised by a single mom, who simply decided not to worry about gender roles. Ada had tutors in science and mathematics just like the boys of the day. She married William King, Earl of Lovelace, father of Ada’s three children and supporter of her academic endeavors.

Around the age of 17, Ada met Charles Babbage, “father of the computer” and inventor of the analytic engine. Ada studied the machine, and “described how codes could be created for the device to handle letters and symbols along with numbers. She also theorized a method for the engine to repeat a series of instructions, a process known as looping that computer programs use today.”

Erna HooverErna S. Hoover – Feedback Control so your phone systems don’t overload

Erna Schneider Hoover, born in 1926, did not let her gender keep her from earning a PhD from Yale, being awarded one of the first software patents, becoming the first female supervisor of a technical department at Bell Labs, or being inducted in the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

In an age of ubiquitous smartphones, we tend to forget that it was not so long ago that Bell Labs struggled with a growing number of analog telephones and switching systems overwhelmed by dropped calls and dreaded busy signals. Aided by her background in mathematics, Erna Hoover drew plans for a computer program that kept track of the number, intervals, and classes of calls. The monitoring allowed for prioritizing resources, thus preventing systems from overloading.

Dr. Hoover was awarded U.S. Patent No. 3,623,007, Feedback Control Monitor for Stored Program Data Processing System. Inventors listed are Barry J. Eckhart Ottawa, Canada, and Erna S. Hoover, Summit, NJ, U.S.A. For information: the order in which names are listed under “Inventors” does not indicate importance of contribution.

What to “Just Vote No” On?

An article about women inventors might seem out of place on this website, but it is not. Here are four suggestions:

* Vote No on any proposal to allow prioritizing establishment politics over subject learning like reading, writing, arithmetic, science, technology. The women inventors had to know their subject, either by formal tutoring or schooling as Ada Lovelace and Erna Hoover, or by self study like Hedy Lamarr.

* Vote No on any proposal that excuses learning choices. If you wish to major in sociology, that’s fine, but be aware that on the average you will not be earning as much as someone who majors in engineering.

* Vote No on any proposal that emphasizes gender. They are all designed to keep women economically indebted to government largess.

* Vote No on any proposal to standardize schooling to the point that natural curiosity and randomness is stamped out. The inventions by Lovelace, Lamarr, and Hoover all called for planned randomness, finding a pattern in the unexpected, connecting dots where no connection was there before.