Browsing: Information Technology

Earlier this week at NIST, we brought together a diverse group of people who will have a profound influence on the future of our cities and the services provided to their citizens. These 300 leaders from government, industry, and academia came to attend an event called the Global City Team Challenge (GCTC) Tech Jam. The GCTC program, launched in 2014 by NIST with a number of partners from the federal government and industry, is one way that NIST is supporting the Administration’s Smart City Initiative announced last September. Two of the questions I get most often when I mention this topic are: What is a “smart city”? And why is NIST involved? I’ll offer my perspective, and I encourage you…

Over the course of its 100-plus year history, NIST has had some colorful characters who were also pioneers in their fields. For computer scientist Karen Olsen, one who stands out was Ethel Marden. In the 1950s, Marden wrote programs for the nation’s first internally programmed digital computer: the Standards Eastern Automatic Computer (SEAC). For 13 years, SEAC was a valuable tool used by various government agencies to do everything from accounting to checking calculations for the hydrogen bomb. It led to several innovations, including electric typewriters and the digital scanner, which was used to create the first digital image. “Marden inspires me because she and I are both computer scientists, but I was also intrigued that she and her husband…

As a professional reference librarian and amateur history buff at NIST, I have had the opportunity to become acquainted with all kinds of extraordinary individuals. In particular, I have been struck by the number of women who made important contributions to the development of the earliest electronic computers. One of my favorites is Ida Rhodes. Rhodes, a NIST mathematician and computer expert from 1940-1975, designed the C-10 language used by one of the earliest computers, the UNIVAC 1. She also worked on computer translation of Russian, gave lectures to government agencies and private firms to promote the computers’ ability to make their work more efficient, and taught computer coding to people with physical disabilities. In 1977, she developed an algorithm…

Happy Pi Day! No, not pie day, Pi Day. That Greek character pi, π, that you’ve heard of but aren’t quite sure what the big deal is. Pi is the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. As yawn-inducing as that may sound, it’s an important ratio because pi is the same no matter the size of the circle. This magical ratio, pi, is true for the circle describing the tire of an automobile or a circle going around the entire Earth. We can use pi to calculate a diameter. If the circumference of the Earth at the equator is 40,075 kilometers, which it is, then the diameter of the Earth is equal to the circumference divided by pi,…