Saturday, March 7, 2015

The mathematician, she . . . .

     Tomorrow, March 8, is the International Day of the Woman -- and I celebrate the day with mixed feelings.  YES, there are many women I want to celebrate. BUT WHY are they not celebrated daily, equally with men? And a more specific concern, WHY, when the word "mathematician" is used, is the person assumed to be a man. (There is, on the other hand, a nice non-gendered neutrality in numbers -- as in this first stanza of "Numbers," by Mary Cornish, found below.)
      In this posting I celebrate Grace Brewster Murray Hopper (1906-1992) -- a mathematician with a doctorate from Yale, a navy admiral, a computer scientist who led in the development of COBOL, an early (c.1959) programming language.  A person I had the good fortune to meet when she visited Bloomsburg University in 1984 to receive an honorary Doctor of Science Degree.  Hopper was imaginative and articulate; here is some poetry found in her words.

                               If it's a 
                               good idea,
                               do it.  

               It's much easier
               to apologize
               than it is
               to get permission.

    We must break away 
    from the sequential
    and not limit computers . . .
           We must state relationships, 
                  not procedures.

     This link leads to a wonderful ode to Grace Hopper by Irish poet Eavan Boland -- entitled "Code" -- and posted on 8 June 2012.
     As promised above, here is the first stanza of "Numbers," by Mary Cornish, found in its entirety at Poetry 180 (a one-a-day collection of poems for secondary students) as well as at The Poetry Foundation:

     I like the generosity of numbers.
     The way, for example,
     they are willing to count
     anything or anyone:
     two pickles, one door to the room,
     eight dancers dressed as swans.

Cornish's "Numbers" also may be found, along with 150 other poems having mathematical connections, in Strange Attractors:  Poems of Love and Mathematics (A K Peters, 2008).

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