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January 19, 2012

Upon reflection, it seems like I left many important details out in the last entry, so here goes: SWM, 24 y/o, 6’2″ 210 lb. (188 cm/95kg), was stationed in Yokosuka, a large seaside town about an hour south of Tokyo for 3.5 years so is not a newcomer to Japan, likes long walks on the sidewalk.

I’ve more or less gotten used to people driving on the left side of the road, but what I haven’t gotten used to is that walking in Tokyo is like driving. You want to pass someone slow, you look behind you to make sure you won’t crash into anybody, then you go into the other lane and increase your stride. Sometimes you even glance at the person now abreast of you, just like while driving, with superiority in your eyes. I even make engine noises when I pass cute girls. They are floored by the raw power of my mouth motor revving into 4th gear. No they’re not, I haven’t done that. Recently.

Anyway the dichotomy of cars you see around campus is also kind of stunning. In America, a guy who drives an Audi A4 thinks he is part of the ruling class (which also gives him the right to drive 2cm behind you apparently) but around campus I see cars I’ve only read about on a daily basis, Rolls-Royce Phantom limos, Brabus’s, Lotus Elise’s, etc. etc. And even with those cars, you have those tiny Japanese commercial trucks humming along, and guys on mopeds who still look kind of cool somehow. This state of automotive affairs is literally the only interesting thing about the ugly concrete jungle wProxy-Connection: keep-alive
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re Temple is housed, other than the mystery behind the long line at Azabu Ramen.

But anyway I should finish this blog post because apparently the Internet is about to close or something. I want to talk about Grace Hopper, because I’ve actually been on her ship. Or I should say, the ship that is named for her, USS Hopper (DDG-70). They visited Yokosuka a couple years ago and I had to go over there to retrieve some parts, or something. While I’m sure they were very necessary, I was probably just trying to get out of work for a few minutes. In the Navy, all engineers wear fire-retardant coveralls, but theirs were bright orange, which reminded me of the engineers from Red October.

To me, with a definite bias as a former destroyer sailor (or “tin can sailor”), there is a special significance to having a destroyer named after you. Having an aircraft carrier named after you is fairly easy by virtue of being a President, famous admiral, or Senator who voted against the Civil Rights Act…twice. But almost all destroyers are named after war heroes, men who actually fought and/or died in battle, and quite a few Medal of Honor winners. If Grace Hopper’s life goal was to have an Arleigh Burke class DDG named after her, she had three huge obstacles in her way: 1. She never was in combat. 2. She was primarily a reservist, and 3. She was a woman. But it happened. Why?

Looking at her accomplishments in the field of computer programming, I can honestly say that I don’t really understand any of it. If I were to summarize it, I would say something like: Grace Hopper made computers better because science. But you know what? That’s okay. I think a time should come in everybody’s life where they sit down and admit to themselves that there is just no point in trying to figure out why a^2 + b^2=c^2, because Pythagoras already did that for you about 2,500 years ago (supposedly). The world certainly needs people like Pythagoras, and Grace Hopper.

But seriously, even a cretin like me can understand the significance of what she did. The thing that fascinates me the most about her achievements, scientifically, is her invention of the compiler, a machine that translates plain English into programming language. She invented this in 1952 when it was widely thought that computers were just glorified calculators. It’s one thing to be a visionary, it’s quite another to actually reach out and create with your own hands the things that you envision, in a time where very few believed that a woman could possess that type of genius. She also had a huge hand in developing the COBOL language, the theory behind which was to be more based in plain English. Being a non-scientific, non-mathematical sort of person, I can definitely appreciate that. This shows once again her vision, as she wanted to decloak computers from their esoteric fog and have them trickle down to the average person.

BZ, Grace.

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One Comment
  1. I appreciate that you shared your personal experience aboard the USS Hopper. This served as a great entry point in highlighting her career and contribution. I also enjoyed learning about the way naval vessels are named. I had no idea.

    I dig that you threw Pathagoras in for good measure. Looking at the page you linked to brings back painful memories of the math classes I did so poorly in many many years ago.

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