Stephanie Shirley: Software Pioneer

Stephanie Shirley: Software Pioneer

I’d never heard of Stephanie Shirley until I heard this BBC interview with her. As a five year old she escaped the Nazis in Germany, escaping to Britian in a Kindertransport. She founded a software company in 1962 that only hired women. It allowed employees to work from home, a practise that is much more common now than it was then. At the time women were not always welcome in the workplace, especially after they married or had kids, so this was an exceptional change. Ironically, equality legislation years later forced them to hire men!

In her personal life, her son Giles was autistic. Caring for him caused her to have a nervous breakdown as she tried to run her business too but she has poured huge sums of money into autism research and in her retirement has given away most of her £150m wealth.

To help Giles and others like him, she first established the Kingwood Trust to support young adults with autism, and more recently started the Prior’s Court School in Berkshire. “It is actually the biggest single project,” she says. “It took five years of my life. That’s the one I dreamed about.” It aims to help autistic children into mainstream education or some form of employment by using innovative techniques in art, music and sport.

The Shirley Foundation has spent or allocated around £50m in recent years – putting it among Britain’s top grant-giving foundations – with 70% going to autism-related work, from the first online conference on autism to yet another start-up, the Welsh support network Autism Cymru.

She also spoke at TED which she talked about her life.

If you want to hear about a remarkable woman, listen to this podcast and watch her on the TED stage.

How New Horizons flew to Pluto

Pluto

The last week has been quite an amazing one in human history. We have photographed up close all the planets (and ex-planets) of our solar system. What our ancestors saw as mere points of light in the sky are now full colour images that anyone can see. It’s really amazing.

Pluto the Death Star

Still, there were surprises in the form of a death star. George Lucas must have been there already!

Pluto the dog

And of course there is that heart shaped landmark on the surface of the dwarf planet that looks suspiciously like Pluto the dog, but I think Snoopy would have loved to go there ..

snoopy astronaut

Clyde Tombaugh was the man who discovered Pluto in 1930. He died in 1997 before this mission launched and a portion of his ashes were carried by the New Horizons craft. His are the first ashes to be carried to Pluto, and the first to eventually leave the solar system as New Horizons is on an escape trajectory!

In typical Scott Manley style, he has produced a video using Kerbal Space Program explaining how New Horizons was launched by NASA. He has lots of background information on the rockets used and he’s as interesting as always.

Here’s another, more cinematic, depiction of the launch by Youtube user “winged”. This one is shorter and visually more interesting but lacks the narration of Scott’s video so you should definitely watch both!

If you’re interested in the cameras on board, you should read Photographing Pluto: This Is How New Horizons Works and The Camera Behind The New Pluto Photos.

There’s two cameras that more or less operate in visible light: a color camera which is a medium resolution camera (Ralph), and then there’s a grayscale or black and white telephoto camera (Long Range Reconnaissance Imager, or LORRI).

Our long range pictures of things that are going to give us our highest resolution images will be taken LORRI. And the color pictures will be taken with Ralph. We can actually combine the colors from Ralph to colorize LORRI’s pictures.

And then there is an imaging infrared spectrometer that will also makes pictures of a sort. But they’re mostly compositional information, like what Pluto and its moons are made out of.

Another constraint on the mission was that Ralph had to take photos using only the sun’s dim light that reaches Pluto. During its flyby, New Horizons will photograph the side of Pluto that’s turned away from the sun. This side is lit solely by the sun’s light reflecting off Charon. This is like taking a photo using just the light from a “quarter moon” on Earth, a lead optical engineer for the mission told me in an email.

So Hardaway and her team designed Ralph for the exact light conditions that New Horizons would have to operate in. “This camera isn’t adjustable. It’s designed very specifically for conditions at Pluto,” she says.

The craft has successfully passed through the Pluto system according to signals received earlier today. It’s going to take months for all the scientific data collected to be transmitted back to Earth but hopefully we’ll see more detailed photos of Pluto and it’s moons over the next week. I’ll update this post with more when I get it!

Finally for now, New Horizons took many photos on it’s way to Pluto including this stunning montage of Jupiter and one of it’s moons, Io. Check out the mission homepage for more!

Jupiter and Io montage

Update at 2015-07-15 21:00 UTC+1: NASA have release two new images. One of Charon, one of Pluto. The close up of Pluto shows mountains 3,500m high. Both images show a lack of craters meaning the landscape is relatively young in solar system terms. Certainly less than 100m years old which is young compared to the Earth at 4.5b years old!

New close-up images of a region near Pluto’s equator reveal a giant surprise: a range of youthful mountains rising as high as 11,000 feet (3,500 meters) above the surface of the icy body. The mountains likely formed no more than 100 million years ago -- mere youngsters relative to the 4.56-billion-year age of the solar system -- and may still be in the process of building, says Jeff Moore of New Horizons’ Geology, Geophysics and Imaging Team (GGI). That suggests the close-up region, which covers less than one percent of Pluto’s surface, may still be geologically active today.
New close-up images of a region near Pluto’s equator reveal a giant surprise: a range of youthful mountains rising as high as 11,000 feet (3,500 meters) above the surface of the icy body.
The mountains likely formed no more than 100 million years ago — mere youngsters relative to the 4.56-billion-year age of the solar system — and may still be in the process of building, says Jeff Moore of New Horizons’ Geology, Geophysics and Imaging Team (GGI). That suggests the close-up region, which covers less than one percent of Pluto’s surface, may still be geologically active today.
Remarkable new details of Pluto’s largest moon Charon are revealed in this image from New Horizons’ Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI), taken late on July 13, 2015 from a distance of 289,000 miles  (466,000 kilometers).
Remarkable new details of Pluto’s largest moon Charon are revealed in this image from New Horizons’ Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI), taken late on July 13, 2015 from a distance of 289,000 miles (466,000 kilometers).

The Irish Research and Development Centre

That was bizarre. The phone rang twice. I picked it up but they had hung up. It rang again. A woman with what I presume to be an Indian accent spoke:

‘Good morning Sir. May I ask you three questions that will only take up a moment of your time?’
‘Eh. Sure.’
‘When purchasing goods is the price or quality more important?’
‘OK, before I answer that, who do you represent?’
‘Oh, The Irish Research and Development Centre here in Dungarvan.’
‘Sorry, what was that? The Irish Resea..’ (I started typing the name into a browser, my keyboard is noisy)

CLICK. They hung up.

Weird. Was that some sort of scam?

Justice League: Gods and Monsters Chronicles

Wonder Woman

Batman

Superman

This is an alternate universe where the Justice League use lethal force to maintain order on Earth. Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman are not who you are familiar with. An animated movie is expected at the end of the month and will shine an altogether darker light on these super heroes.

In an alternate universe, the Justice League is a brutal force that maintains order on Earth. Superman is named Hernan Guerra and is the son of General Zod, who was rocketed to Earth as a child and raised by a family of Mexican immigrants. Batman is Kirk Langstrom, a scientist who has inadvertently transformed himself into a vampire in an attempt to cure his cancer, feeding on criminals to satisfy his hunger. Wonder Woman is Bekka, who is the wife of the New God Orion.[2][3] The Justice League’s unaccountability is ultimately challenged by the world’s governments following the suspicious deaths of renowned scientists. (Wikipedia)

There’s a series of comic books too. Here’s a sneak peek at the first Superman one. Looks great!

Justice League Superman

Sounds of the Irish Smoking Ban

The Irish Smoking Ban

It’s hard to believe that smoking was banned in the workplace in Ireland in 2004. It was a huge change but very welcome (by most) and the best thing a Fianna Fail government ever did.

Listen to this Witness podcast on the subject here to be brought back eleven years.

Since the ban it became clear that a bunch of dancing sweaty people consuming alcohol are a smelly lot but the increased ventilation that some nightclubs have installed has helped. :)

Kick Off World

kickoffworld

I’m not a huge fan of football or spectator sports but there’s a certain charm about Kick Off World or “The Player Manager 2016″ (I can’t decide what it’s called). It’s a remake of the Kickoff/Player Manager games of the 90’s on the Amiga. Graphics are simplified of course. The view of the playing field is overhead like in Kickoff or Microprose Soccer but still manages to be interesting, at least for the first few matches. You can also skip the game and go straight to the results if all you’re interested in is the managerial side of the game.

There’s loads to see in the game, lots of players and teams as well as options to set tactics. Go get it on Windows, Mac, Linux or even Android. They’re all linked from their homepage including a (slightly out of date) Flash version you can play in your browser! Watch out for updates on their Facebook page.

set -o vi FTW

The Bash command line can be edited using the cursor keys but for the real power user you need to enable Vi mode:

$ set -o vi

Or add it to one of your Bash startup files.

Now, instead of the slow interactive editing you’ll get the command and insert mode of Vi! Users of Vi or Vim will feel right at home. You start in insert mode by default so it feels the same as before. You can type new text, move left and right with the cursor keys and delete text but press ESC and you can do all the things Vi command mode allows you to do.

Check out this extensive cheat sheet with examples or jump directly to the ascii version here!

Ten Years at Automattic

Working

I still remember the day in 2005 when Matt asked me to come work for him. I still remember the exact spot I was standing where I took that call. It was only a couple of metres from where I sit typing this now.

Ten years, time has flown. I work for an absolutely amazing company with great people. It’s hard to believe there’s well over three hundred people there now. Remember when you needed an invite? It’s a far cry from WordPress.com today.

I wish I could provide an insightful comment on the challenges and rewards of working remotely but it’s late and I just wanted to get this post out there to mark the day. If you want to experience the remote work lifestyle for yourself, come work with us!