Grace Lived and Experienced

Grace Lived and Experienced
Pentecost 2018

Sometimes, not always, a person’s name reflects their character. You may not think the name Grace Hopper is a household name but chances are she had a huge impact on your daily living. Born in 1906, Grace Brewster Murray grew up in New York City. She was a curious child and had the habit of disassembling things to learn how they worked. She died in her sleep on New Year’s Day in1992, a fitting end for a women who helped usher in a new dawn of technology.

Grace Murray Hopper was one of the first programmers of the Harvard Mark I computer. Additionally, she was a pioneer of computer programming who invented one of the first compiler related tools. She popularized the idea of machine-independent programming languages, which led to the development of COBOL, an early high-level programming language still in use today. COBOL is an acronym for Common Business-Oriented Language. Throughout much of her later career, Hopper was much in demand as a speaker at various computer-related events. She was well known for her lively and irreverent speaking style, as well as a rich treasury of early war stories since she served in the Naval Reserves, retiring at the rank of Rear Admiral. She also received the nickname “Grandma COBOL”. She was once described as “‘all Navy’, but when you reach inside, you find a ‘Pirate’ dying to be released”.

While she was working on a Mark II Computer at Harvard University in 1947, her associates discovered a moth that was stuck in a relay; the moth impeded the operation of the relay. While neither Hopper nor her crew mentioned the phrase “debugging” in their logs, the case was held as an instance of literal “debugging.” For many years, the term bug had been in use in engineering but Grace Hopper is credited with its use for computers. The remains of the moth can be found in the group’s log book at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.

Following a career that spanned more than 42 years, Admiral Hopper took mandatory retirement from the Navy on August 14, 1986. At a celebration held in Boston on the USS Constitution to commemorate her retirement, Hopper was awarded the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, the highest non-combat decoration awarded by the Department of Defense. At the time of her retirement, she was the oldest active-duty commissioned officer in the United States Navy (79 years, eight months and five days), and had her retirement ceremony aboard the oldest commissioned ship in the United States Navy (188 years, nine months and 23 days.
In 1996 a guided missile destroyer was named for Grace Hopper. USS Hopper (DDG-70) was launched and nicknamed “Amazing Grace”. Her career included over forty honorary degrees, over twenty awards including being the first American and the first woman of any nationality to be made a Distinguished Fellow of the British Computer Society and recipient posthumously of the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her accomplishments in the field of computer science. Of her own legacy, grace Hopper said: “The most important thing I’ve accomplished, other than building the compiler, is training young people. They come to me, you know, and say, ‘Do you think we can do this?’ I say, “Try it.” And I back ’em up. They need that. I keep track of them as they get older and I stir ’em up at intervals so they don’t forget to take chances.”

The empirical approach to anything means to collect data through observation. Empirical research is that research which has been obtained using empirical evidence. If it sounds like I am repeating myself, it is because I am. I want to make this way of defending and supporting a concept very clear. The empirical approach is a way of gaining knowledge by means of direct and indirect observation or experience and it can be analyzed quantitatively or qualitatively.

The concept of grace is not something one can definitively identify. Much like probability, the concept from which we have borrowed an approach to discuss grace, one’s perspective bears a great deal of weight in our discussions. Empiricism values research more than other methodologies. Empirical evidence, the record of one’s direct observations or experiences, has four basic goals: go beyond simply reporting observations; promote environment for improved understanding; combine extensive research with detailed case study; prove relevancy of theory by working in a real world environment. In other words, we need to not just observe but really think about what we observe and provide a clear and objective perspective that includes some fact checking. Then we need to pay attention and try out our resulting conclusions in reality.

Grace is the giving back to others, often strangers, out of gratitude for what we ourselves have. Perhaps the greatest evidence of our own true worth is when we are able to help another while going through our own personal storms. Grace is not only for those times where we feel we have too much. Grace is for every day, an expression that gives our own life purpose and meaning. I think Grace Hopper would agree.

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