May the destroyers of our world rain their cosmic force upon you! Seriously speaking, this is a place from which I get to both curse and praise the world without actually affecting it in any physical way.


'Finding Ada' Post 2010: Annie Jump Cannon

Ai, ai, ai, the things I do on my slightest whim. At the cost of my precious bedtime sleep that no amount of school naps can replace, I’m here to talk about Women in Science on behalf of My referral, if you can officially call her one, is Sydney Padua via the wonderful Seeing that her work features Ada Lovelace as protagonist, little wonder that she would have talked about this.

The lucky woman I decided to look at is Annie Jump Cannon. Born in 11th Dec 1863 and dead by 13th Apr 1941, she received a fair amount of education as she grew up, starting with a maternal kick-start to stargazing, then attending Wellesley College (a woman-only college then and now) and later Radcliffe College, before going onto Harvard. But the important thing that even with this education, no women would have dreamed of entering the academia in many areas, such as astronomy. Cannon changed all this.

In 1896, she and a large group of other women were hired by Edward Charles Pickering of Harvard, who wished to save money by hiring them at a quarter the men’s pay. All of them were either astronomy graduates or naturally gifted in mathematics. Together, they handled a mammoth feat of celestial bookkeeping and published the Henry Draper Catalog in 1880.

But that was not the end for Cannon. She continued revising the star photographs over the years. She continued and continued and continued until she finally… continued some more. At the end of her life, she had discovered 300 new stars and classified 325,000 more. She became known as the ‘Census-Taker of the Sky’, but that wasn’t enough for her.

On the way, she managed to knock down the old, inadequate star classification systems while averting the plodding complications of her colleagues’ own systems. She noticed that stellar temperature was the principal distinguishing feature among different spectra and combined previous classification systems into a simplified scheme. The ABC types of old were reordered into the OBAFGKM system, which was subdivided into 10 subclasses, starting from 0 and ending at 9.

Her advances were not missed, and she was appointed as Curator of Astronomical Photography, Harvard University from 1911-38. Then she served as Harvard Astronomer from 1938-40, the first women to receive this position. She also clinched a second First for being the first women to be awarded the Draper Gold Medal of the National Academy for Science. Oxford gave her an honorary doctorate in 1925, and on top of that she joined the American Philosophical Society. Outside the academic world, she fought for women’s rights.

Cannon had an extraordinary talent for distinguishing stars. She could classify 3 stars a minute based on spectral patterns, which meant she spent twenty seconds to glance at one, observe its features, compare them to the ideal OBAFGKM stars and categorise them accordingly. Using a magnifying glass, she could view stars of 9th magnitude, which in normal English is 16x fainter than the human eye can see.

She was listed as one of the twelve Greatest Five American Women by the National League of Women Voters.

I’ll say she spent her life doing beautiful stuff. She herself expressed a desire to reach out for the stars, an extension of humanity’s drive to know our universe. What was most amazing was that she managed this in a time of inequality in most of society. Now, I can’t do anything directly to honor her, due to a notable lack or desire of femininity, but I can direct others down her path. I hope this works, hasty effort it is.


To Catch the Vapors

Moons and suns, I think I'm becoming addicted to gaslamp romance(1). A return to the time before the advent of the electrical computer, before the entire Digital Age began. Sometimes, even a bypass into a Analog Age given the fresh life of innovations that could have been.

It is in part caused by myself, as these trends are. I borrowed an anthology called, fittingly, Steampunk, edited by Jeff and Ann Vandermeer. I browsed the web extensively for fanart of Acker's 9, or more specifically his stitchpunks. I visited steampunk sites online. But the pivotal point was when I came upon this.

Sydney Padua's take (which in her words is 'not a comic') on a reality where Ada Lovelace(2) and Charles Babbage(3) have successfully built the Difference Engine(4) is sheer comedy, complemented by delightful characterisation via body language as well as the stock duo Lovelace and Babbage comprise. Under the veneer of laughs it is, to the core, steampunk, criticising modern problems from a pseudo-, no, semi-, no, somewhat-Victorian standpoint. Go see it.

I hope this has been educational. I now know more about Babbage than I ever thought I should just by standing next to Padua as she forged on with her not-a-comic. Otherwise, it should be entertaining. Failing that, I took great pleasure in writing this.

(1) General term for fiction depicting alternative realities where abandoned technologies are the driving force behind progress. Includes but not restricted to the "steam" in steampunk and the "clock" in clockpunk, as the "punk" part requires the story to lash back out at modern society.

(2) Mathematician and phyicist who, ironically, was the only legitimate child of the notorious poet Lord Byron.

(3) Inventor of devices stated in (4), but was also extremely interested in other things ranging from banning street music, visiting little volcanoes like Vesuvius and construction carriages with built-in bookshelves. He was quite a character, which is like saying he was a prime paradigm of the quality called humanity as my classmates have once phrased. But I can say he was a person who had a knack for doing things to tempt one to distance oneself from.

(4) A computer used for calculating polynomials and logarithms. Its descendant, the Analytical Engine, was THE computer that could have been, if not for the irritating Second Law of Thermodynamics . Note: if successful, computers would have come something like a century early. Even if Babbage had only finished it at the end of his life, they would have come in 1871, seventy years early. Think on that.



On the train is as good a time as any to practise my handwriting. Normally, the longer I write, the worse I get. The fact that I am writing on the train does not make this easier. Speaking broady, I can say I have to round out my letters more instead of stretching them out and learn to lift my pen off the paper for certain strokes. A sense of timing and a proper pen are also crucial. This time, I write slowly.
Fine, I say. My handwriting is not accurately described as neat even at this leisurely pace. The temptation to flatten out curves and crosses is large. On my blog, which I just decided this will go, this is of course impossible to see. The reason why I prefer typing to writing. Though the ubiquity of writing implements trumps keypads or keyboards. Knowing alone helps little against the part of me that itches to scribble.
I scribble beautifully. It's like my own calligraphy: hard to decipher and then comprehend. But in this world there are almost seven billion different points of view. I need at most three to remind myself my font does not appeal to all. To me, it looks somewhat large, undeveloped and childlike when compared to other people's, notably girls'. Still, I stick to the view that my handwriting is unique and probably more interesting to look at. I have already expounded on my scribbling's qualities. The shorthand is left.
Strictly speaking, it is more of a mediumhand. There are plenty of words I have not abbreviated yet. More importantly, I have not studied the actual shorthand in detail. It is a system of writing that is akin to Arabic or Tamil in appearance rather than Englishm, English only in the words the letters produce. In a sense, it is. The lines are consonants while the dots are vowels. The precise placement of the dots determines its exact vowel sound.
It looks intriguing and time-saving, if only I had the courage to learn it. My mediumhand already combines the worst of my scribbling and my speed. Moreover, there are clearly non-English symbols. In case it was forgotten, my handwriting was in possesssion of a higher degree of order twenty minutes ago than now. Most vexing how my curbes have imploded, how my crosses have melted, and the irritating habit of writing over mistakes.
I might expand on my shorthand in later weeks, but I've briefly pointed the way. If the reader is inquisitive enough to try the original systems that were sources of my own, I commend them as an senior to a junior. The time for slowly taking notes ended months ago. Taking no steps to brace onself for the future is not worth congratulation. But I am kind, and striving to be open-minded. Otherwise, you can wait for me to upload my system and adopt it.
I don't recommend that. My schedule states three months will pass before my turn. On the bright side, I can polish up my writing, mediumhand and maybe even learn true shorthand.