Honoring the ancestors of my profession

In my day job, I’m a software developer.  I was fascinated by computers as soon as I discovered them, and ended up graduating with a degree in “business” (i.e. not computer science) programming.  I’ve worked in the field for over thirty years now.  I honor the ancestors of my profession- people like Charles Babbage and Lady Ada Lovelace, Alan Turing, Admiral Grace Hopper

Recently, I’ve been geeking out on the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, including through the excellent BBC podcast 13 Minutes to The Moon.  I just finished the episode covering the guidance computer and those who created and programmed it and… well.  My life has been shaped in many ways by the wonder of the space program; it and science fiction literature were profoundly formative influences on my imagination and creativity.

But that episode made me realize how much the space program shaped my career.  The Apollo guidance computer pioneered the use of integrated circuits (ICs) in computers, and the Apollo program itself consumed 60% of the world production of ICs.  The very term “software” came to prominence because of the program, and the modern principles of software engineering came out of the work of Margaret Hamilton and others involved with Project Apollo.  You could say that without undue hyperbole that the modern computer industry was born in that time.

So, it’s pretty fair to say that my career wouldn’t have existed without the trailblazing work that the computer scientists, software engineers, and programmers who were behind the Moon landings were doing, around the time I was born and into my early childhood.  They (and their families), like many others in the project, paid a great cost for that triumph- long hours, isolation, marital and familiar stress, health issues.  I honor what they achieved, and the doors they opened for me.

Hail to the ancestors of my profession!

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Ursula K. LeGuin

Ursula K. LeGuin was one of the first writers I came across when I discovered fantasy fiction.  I found her Earthsea Trilogy fascinating in concept, absorbing in detail, captivating in character… and ultimately, disappointing in its philosophy.  Still, I hold a deep love for the second book, and the work as a whole sparked my early interest in Taoism.

She was a profound influence on modern fantasy and science fiction… John Scalzi described her as “the spiritual mother of generations of writers.”  She was an outspoken feminist and a strong believer in the moral and intellectual value of SF&F.  She believed passionately in the power of imagination to make the world a better place.

I can’t think of a more fitting epitaph for her than her own words:

“Only in silence the word,
Only in dark the light,
Only in dying life:
Bright the hawk’s flight
On the empty sky.

—The Creation of Éa”

Hole in my heart

My mother died yesterday,
And there is a hole in my heart.
She was not an angel,
She was not a saint,
She was my Mom.
She was a good person, a good Mom.
She was smart, funny, kind, generous.
She loved me very much.
I loved her very much.
This has not changed.
She had a long life;
I think it was a good life.
Now she is gone from here,
And so there is a hole in my heart;
I do not know when it will heal.

J.A.E. 1934-2017
Hail the traveler!

Esta Noche

Something inspired by our recent trip to Oaxaca for Dia de los Muertos:

Esta Noche (Atzompa Cemetery, Hallowe’en)

The carnival chaos beyond the gates
Fades to candle-flicker, marigold glow,
Copal and mezcal wafting in the air.
A quieter bustle reigns here, under
The pulsing music. Solemn watchers
Everywhere you look- reserved but
Not resentful of us interlopers. Children
Drowse graveside, couples cuddle, and
All around the dead flit, catching at
The corners of our eyes, like the fleeting
Glance of a painted face, skull brought
Briefly above the skin.  We find graves
Lonely, less tended, light candles and
Place them in reassurance: no one,
No soul is left alone tonight.