David Letterman: "How did you know so much about computers then?"
"Amazing Grace" Hopper: "I didn't. It was the first one."
Today is Rear Admiral Grace Hopper's 107th birthday, and I couldn't be more pleased to see her honored with a Google Doodle. You probably don't know the name, but without her the world would be a very different place. The fact that you're reading these words is thanks to the creativity and talent of this amazing individual way back in the 1950s.
I first learned of Grace Hopper through a guest appearance on the NBC iteration of the Dave Letterman show. Back then I was obsessively video recording Letterman, and then dubbing over choice bits to a compilation tape. Her interview was one of the few non-comedy pieces to make it to my poor battered VHS tape (recorded at the nasty looking 6 hour speed, no less...).
Fortunately I was able to find the same clip on YouTube and share it with you here. She does a much better job telling her own story than I would, so I'll let the clip speak for itself. I'll just say that anyone who uses a computer (i.e. everybody) should really spend 10 minutes watching this clip, and reflect on just how significant Hopper's contributions are to our modern world. Imagine conjuring up those first few words of computer langauge out of the ether (language that was later namechecked by The Firesign Theater in "I Think We're All Bozos On This Bus"). She heled to popularize the term "debugging" after a dead moth gummed up the works of the Mark II computer at Harvard. So humble, so clever, and more than a match for Dave.
I'll close by adding that since seeing this clip 25 years ago, I still refer to packets of pepper as "picoseconds", and when something is delayed I use her "great number of nanoseconds" explanation all. the. time. Please watch this video - you'll be as astonished as I still am of the incredible accomplishments of this incredible person.