Software pioneer and ENIAC programmer Jean Bartik dies at 86


The New York Times has published an obituary for Jean Jennings Bartik, “one of the first computer programmers and a pioneering forerunner in a technology that came to be known as software.” She died on March 23 at a nursing home in Poughkeepsie, NY, at age 86. She was the last surviving member of the group of women who programmed the Eniac, or Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer, regarded as the first all-electronic digital computer. (via Jim Roberts)

Photo, via Wikipedia: “Two women operating the ENIAC’s main control panel while the machine was still located at the Moore School. ‘U.S. Army Photo’ from the archives of the ARL Technical Library. Left: Betty Jennings (Mrs. Bartik) Right: Frances Bilas (Mrs. Spence)

Make a birthday present for Al Jaffee!

David from MAD Magazine sez, “AL JAFFEE IS TURNING 90! On March 13, long-time MAD writer/artist, creator of the Fold-In and Snappy Answers, and accused (but never convicted!) shoplifter Al Jaffee is going to be 90 freakin’ years old! To celebrate, we’re asking all fans (and enemies) to send in letters, cards, poems, drawings, paintings, sculptures, operettas, WHATEVER — so we can pass the love straight to Al! The sky’s the limit! You can send your birthday wishes to: The Big Jaffee c/o MAD Magazine 1700 Broadway NY , NY 10019. The deadline is March 1st — so get crackin’!”

Pedocouture: In Vogue magazine, 6-year-olds are sex vixens


The December issue of French Vogue, edited by Tom Ford, features an extensive spread of child models presented more or less like whores. The girl above is 6. Lemme spell that for you: s-i-x! I’m a big Tom Ford fan. Or, well, was. Artistic freedom and everything, and no, this shouldn’t be made illegal—but I believe this is Totally Not Cool. More at NY Mag, Stylelist, and Gawker has scans of the whole photo spread.

(thanks, Tara McGinley)

NY-based Iraqi artist to implant camera in the back of his head for Qatar museum

A photography professor at NYU plans to install a camera in the back of his head for an art project commissioned by a new modern art museum in Qatar.

Artist Wafaa Bilal (shown below), who was born in Iraq, will stream images captured by the device to the museum; visitors there will be able to peruse whatever is to be seen out of the back of his head. Snip from WSJ:

bilal.jpg Wafaa Bilal, an Iraqi assistant professor in the photography and imaging department of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, intends to undergo surgery in coming weeks to install the camera, according to several people familiar with the project. For one year, Mr. Bilal’s camera will take still pictures at one-minute intervals, then feed the photos to monitors at the museum. The thumbnail-sized camera will be affixed to his head through a piercing-like attachment, his NYU colleagues say. Mr. Bilal declined to comment for this story.

The artwork, titled “The 3rd I,” is intended as “a comment on the inaccessibility of time, and the inability to capture memory and experience,” according to press materials from the museum, known as Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art. Mr. Bilal’s work would be among the inaugural exhibits of Mathaf, scheduled to open next month.

If flying in the US with an Iraqi name wasn’t already fun enough, I can only imagine Mr. Bilal will have an even more delightful time at TSA screenings once the device has been implanted in his head.

News coverage: Wall Street Journal, New York Times, CNET, CNN, PopSci.

The artist’s website is here—poke around, some intense previous projects involving body modification, the internet, jihad, the US occupation of Iraq, and surveillance. His brother was killed at a US security checkpoint in Iraq five years ago.

Here’s his 3rdI (third eye / third “I”) project site.

The museum’s website is here, Facebook, Twitter.

(via the BB Submitterator, thanks TimDrew)

Brain-imaging and neurorealism: what does it mean to “feel something” in your brain?

Ben “Bad Science” Goldacre dissects the reporting of an experiment purporting to show a neurological basis for low libido in women’s brains. Goldacre points out that the alternative to believing in a neurological basis for how you feel is to believe that you can feel something without having something happen in your brain.

Interestingly, this odd interpretation is far from new: in fact it’s part of a whole series of recurring themes in popular misinterpretations of neuroscience, first described formally in a paper from Nature Reviews Neuroscience called “fMRI in the public eye”. To examine how fMRI brain imaging research was depicted in mainstream media, they conducted a systematic search for every news story about it over a 12 year period, and then conducted content analysis to identify any recurring themes.

The first theme they identified was the idea that a brain imaging experiment “can make a phenomenon uncritically real, objective or effective in the eyes of the public”. They described this phenomenon as “neuro-realism”, and the idea is best explained through their examples, which mirror these new claims about libido perfectly.

So an article in the Washington Post takes a view on pain, and whether the subjective experience of it is enough: “patients have long reported that acupuncture helps relieve their pain, but scientists don’t know why. Could it be an illusion?” They have an answer. “Now brain imaging technology has indicated that the perception of pain relief is accurate.”

Another says that brain imaging “provides visual proof that acupuncture alleviates pain”. The reality, of course, is much simpler: for your own personal experience of pain, which is all that matters, if you say that your pain is relieved, then your pain is relieved (and I wish good luck to any doctor who tells his patient their pain has gone, when it hasn’t, just because some magical scan says it has).


Rosalind Franklin: Crick and Watson’s uncredited collaborator

Many of you wrote in response to the Crick obit from earlier today to remind us of the unsung and uncredited hero of DNA, Rosalind Franklin. Here’s what Allison says about her:

It is past due that Dr. Rosalind Franklin received credit for actually being the scientist who demonstrated the helical nature of DNA. Her crystallography was crucial to the subsequent elucidation of DNA structure and replication. Her research was used without her knowledge or permission.


Update: Alex sez: “According to the NY Times there were no hard feelings between her and her colleagues.”

One of the problems caused by the book was Dr. Watson’s implication that the pair of them had obtained Dr. Franklin’s data on DNA surreptitiously and hence had deprived her of due credit for the DNA discovery. Dr. Crick believed he obtained the data fairly since she had presented it at a public lecture, to which he had been invited. Though Dr. Watson had misreported a vital figure from the lecture, a correct version reached Dr. Crick through the Medical Research Council report. If Dr. Franklin felt Dr. Crick had treated her unfairly, she never gave any sign of it. She became friends with both Dr. Crick and Dr. Watson, and spent her last remission from cancer in Dr. Crick’s house.

Dr. Franklin likely would have shared the Nobel Prize had she not died from cancer in 1958, the prize was not awarded till 1962. Nobel Prizes are not awarded posthumously.