Friday, 26 May 2017

Trowelblazers - Halet Çambel

Halet Çambel was a Turkish archaeologist - and an Olympic fencer! She was the first Muslim woman to compete in the Olympic Games, in 1936, in Germany. She was invited to meet Adolf Hitler, but refused on political grounds. She had already been dubious about competing in the "Nazi Games" and felt that this was a compromise too far, according to her obituary in the Telegraph.


Here she is, third from the left.


She was born in Berlin in 1916, the daughter of a Turkish cultural attaché there. The family was very close to Kemal Ataturk, and they could not return to Turkey until the mid 1920s, when Turkey became a republic. She was a frail child so, inspired by German children's books about knights, she decided to learn fencing. Later she was educated in Turkey, and went on to study archaeology at the Sorbonne in Paris between 1933 and 1939. Returning to Turkey, she became a scientific assistant at Istanbul University in 1940. In 1944 she received a Doctorate and in 1947 she began lecturing there.
She also spent two years as visiting scholar at the University of Saarbrucken in Germany and did a lot to strengthen ties between the German and Turkish archaeological communities.
Later, she became a professor, and founded the Institute of Prehistory at Istanbul University. She married Nail Çakırhan, an architect and communist poet, who divorced his Russian first wife in 1937, and they remained together for seventy years.
She dug at Karatepe, in the Taurus Mountains of southern Turkey, after the Second World War, with the German archaeologist Helmut Theodor Bossert, who was the professor of archaeology at Istanbul University. This was a site associated with the 12th Century BC Hittite king Azatiwada, and she played a key role in deciphering the Hittite hieroglyphics found at the site, with the help of the Phoenician alphabet. This site became her life's work - for over fifty years she spent about six months of every year there. She also spent time in the early days teaching the local children, as there were no schools in the remote area.
She was also active in preserving her country's cultural heritage, creating an outdoor museum at Karatepe in 1960, for which her husband designed some buildings. She also opposed the damming of the Ceyhan River, which would have drowned many archaeological sites. She was able to negotiate a compromise on the water level which saved the sites.
In 2004, she received the Prince Claus Award from the Netherlands for her services to Turkish archaeology.
She died in 2014, aged 97.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Farewell, Roger Moore

He may have been 007 to most people (he starred in 7 James Bond movies, after all), but to me, he was the Saint.


Watching him in the 1960s series led me on to a love of the Leslie Charteris stories - I was even a member of the fan club for a while, just so I could carry the membership card around with me. This proclaims, on the back, in a message to the police:
"The bearer of this card is probably a person of hideous antecedents and low moral character, and upon apprehension for any cause should be immediately released in order to save other prisoners from contamination."

And then, later, he was Brett Sinclair in the Persuaders, co-starring with Tony Curtis:


But the thing he himself was proudest of was his work as Unicef ambassador, for which he was knighted.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Black Women in Science - Annie Easley


Annie Easley was a computer scientist, mathematician and rocket scientist. She worked for NASA at the Lewis Research Centre, where she was one of the first African-American computer scientists, and was part of the team which developed software for the Centaur rocket stage.
She went to Xavier University New Orleans, where she majored in pharmacy. At that time, in Alabama, in order for a black person to vote, they had to pass a difficult literacy test and pay a poll tax (this was 1954). According to Wikipedia, the person giving the tests saw that she had gone to Xavier University, and waived the test in her case, just charging her two dollars. Later, she helped other people prepare for the literacy test, which was only abolished in 1965.
Unable to continue her pharmacy studies when she married and moved to Cleveland, Ohio (the university there had recently stopped its pharmacy program), she heard that the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, NACA - the predecessor to NASA - was looking for "computers" and applied for a job. In 1955, a computer was a person who did the maths manually. She was one of only four African-Americans in a staff of 2,500. She spent 34 years working for them, on many different projects. Later at NASA, she also worked as an Equal Employment Opportunity counselor, where she educated supervisors about workplace discrimination on not just race and gender, but age as well.
She retired in 1989. She was also a founder member, and eventually president, of the NASA Lewis Ski Club. She learned to ski when she was 46.
She died in 2011.

Friday, 19 May 2017

Black Victorians - Walter Tull, footballer and First World War officer


Walter Tull was born in Folkestone in 1888, but grew up in a Methodist Children's Home in Bethnal Green, along with his brother Edward, as his parents died when he was nine. His father Daniel Tull was a carpenter from Barbados, and his mother was Alice Elizabeth Palmer, from Kent. Edward went on to be adopted by the Warnock family in Glasgow, and became the first mixed race dentist in Britain.
In 1909, he joined Tottenham Hotspurs, playing inside forward. He was the third black player in the football league, the first being Arthur Wharton, who I wrote about a couple of years ago, and the second being Billy Clarke of Aston Villa.
He went on tour with the team to Argentina and Uruguay, becoming the first mixed race professional footballer from the UK to play in Latin America. However, in October 1909, while playing at Bristol City, he was subjected to serious racial abuse. The Football Star reporter at the match was so angered by this that his report on the match was entitled "Football and the Colour Prejudice", in which he praised Walter for his professional approach, and said that he had been the best forward in the game. This was probably the first time racial prejudice had been highlighted in the newspapers in British football. However, he was dropped from the A team, and in 1911 he transferred to Northampton Town.
During the First World War, Walter served with the Footballers' Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment, where he was promoted to Second Lieutenant in 1917. He was recommended for promotion despite a rule against non-European soldiers becoming officers. He also fought in the Battle of the Somme in 1916, as a sergeant. In 1917, he was sent to Italy, where he was praised for his coolness under fire. He returned to France in 1918, and was killed during the Spring Offensive. His body was never found.
A memorial to him was unveiled at Northampton Town FC in 1999, and there is a Walter Tull Memorial Cup, which was won by Rangers in 2004, when they beat Tottenham Hotspurs 2- 0.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

The Librarians, Series 3 - Jenkins is Awesome!

I sent off for the DVD set of series 3 of The Librarians as soon as I heard it was available, and have been trying not to binge watch it. Some things need to be savoured, and there are only 10 episodes.
It's a brilliant season, though - the Big Bad, introduced in the first episode, is Apep, Egyptian God of Chaos, who wants to release Pure Evil into the world. Another complication for the Librarians is DOSA, the Department of Statistical Anomalies - the US government have become aware of magic in the world, and have created a department to deal with it. Unfortunately, they have noticed that when magical events take place, the Librarians are often there, and have leapt to the conclusion that the Librarians are causing the problems rather than trying to solve them - so they are also after the Librarians, treating them as domestic terrorists.
As if that wasn't enough, there's a theme running through the season about the use of magic and when it might be justified (Cassandra has always been a fan of using magic as a first, rather than a last, resort to solve problems).
Another theme running through the season is that of various characters coming to terms with their own death, particularly Cassandra, who has to deal with her brain tumour, and Flynn, who learns that the magical artefact which may stop Apep requires a human sacrifice for it to work.
And they meet vampires, return to Shangri La, meet the Monkey King, and Frost Giants, go to a carnival, infiltrate a cult, and discover a Lewis Carroll themed world. They discover that Charlene, last seen with Judson, shutting down the Library so it couldn't be accessed at the beginning of season one, is still alive.
And Jenkins is awesome! He saves the day several times, and gets to do some more sword fighting.
The best guest star of the season, for me, was Sean Astin, as the conjuror in charge of a magical carnival.

I understand that season 4 is being made - I'm looking forward to seeing where they go from here.

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Trowelblazers - Hetty Goldman


Hetty Goldman has a very scanty biography on Wikipedia, but there's enough there to show that she was quite a remarkable woman. She was a member of the Goldman-Sachs banking family, born in 1881, and she took her BA in English at Bryn Mawr college in 1903, then decided that she would not follow a writing career because she felt she had nothing to say! She had already become interested in archaeology, and went on to gain her MA in archaeology and classical languages from Columbia University in 1910, when she had her first article published, The Orestia of Aeschylus as Illustrated by Greek Vase-Painting. This article was the major reason for her being the first woman to be awarded the Charles Eliot Norton Fellowship to attend the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, Greece. She worked and studied here from 1910 to 1912.
Her archaeological career was then disrupted by the Balkan Wars and First World War. She returned to New York City to work for the American Red Cross. She was asked by the American Joint Jewish Joint Distribution Committee to return to Greece for a report on the Jewish communities. However, she found time to gain her PhD in 1916, from Radcliffe College.
By 1922, she was working for the Fogg Museum, digging in Ionia and Central Greece. One of the sites she worked on was Colophon, then controlled by Turkey - and this dig was disrupted by the Greco-Turkish War! When the archaeologists returned to the site, they found that all the artefacts had been stolen. However, they had also discovered some of the earliest known Greek houses, and a drainage system of terracotta pipes.
She was the first woman to be appointed to run a dig by the Archaeological Institute of America. She dug widely across Turkey and the Mediterranean, and published many papers, including The Acropolis at Halae in 1940, showing the continuity between Semitic and Mediterranean cultures.
In 1936, she became one of the first professors of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton. She became professor emerita in 1947, which was also the last year of her excavations at Tarsus. The site at Tarsus had been chosen specifically because it was likely to be a place where different cultures of the region had come together, an aim which was confirmed by the finding of Hittite royal seals and Mycenaean pottery in the same contexts.
In 1966 the Archaeological Institute of America awarded her a gold medal for Distinguished Archaeological Achievement.
She died at Princeton in 1972, aged 90.

Apart from archaeology, she was active in sponsoring Jewish refugees escaping from Nazi Germany. Her family origins were German-Jewish, of course.

Friday, 5 May 2017

Concerning the Crew of the Franklin

It's a well known folk song, among other things - the sad tale of the doomed expedition to the Arctic, all hands being lost to cold and starvation. The two ships commanded by Sir John Franklin, HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, got stuck in the sea ice off Canada in 1846. Their final message, sent in April 1848, indicated that they were abandoning their ships to head south overland. The wreck of the Erebus was only found in 2014, and HMS Terror was found nearby in 2016.
Recently, remains of the crew have been found, both bones and mummified remains in the ice, scattered along the trail they took to try to reach safety. Researchers have been gathering DNA samples from the remains, identifying 24 individuals so far - and have found that at least 4 of the 129 crew members were women.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Innominate - EasterCon Monday

We started the morning doing our bit to help take down the art displays. Fangorn was there packing his paintings away - he did covers for the Redwall series, and had the one with the badger and hawk on display over the weekend.

The final day of panels at the Con began with the intersection of two very different interests - SF and pub signs. There was quite a bit of trouble on the technical front to start with - horrendous howls from the electronics, and difficulties with the slide show - but eventually we could see the pub signs that Arthur Chappell was talking about, starting with one from a pub called the Vulcan, showing the god Vulcan, a Vulcan bomber and Mr Spock (positioned so it looked as if the god Vulcan was hitting him with his blacksmith's hammer). The talk also covered famous pubs connected with SF writers, like the Eagle and Child which was CS Lewis and JRR Tolkein's local watering hole, and fictional pub signs like the Slaughtered Lamb from American Werewolf in London and some of the pub signs from the Simon Pegg World's End pub crawl.
We went on from there to the Travelling in SFF panel - space ships, portals, quests, and so on.
And finally it was the Closing Ceremony, where the guests of honour said what a wonderful time they'd had, and Pat Cadigan thanked the Con goers for a wonderful and uplifting weekend.
And the Committee handed over the reins to the FollyCon committee. Next year in Harrowgate!

We didn't have to hurry away, as we decided to stay for an extra night. Our plan was to beat the post-Con blues by doing something completely different for the last afternoon and evening, so we took the train into Birmingham New Street. Back in the 1980s, I went to Star Trek Cons at the Metropole and the Grand. The Grand is no longer a hotel, though I think it may be re-opening soon, but part of the space is now taken up with a new wine bar called The Alchemist. I'd looked it up online, and it seemed to be Steampunk themed, so we started out by going to have a look. The directions I got from Google map took us out of the wrong side of the station, so we had to climb the hill to the main square, so we basically ignored them after that and headed for the cathedral, which I knew was close by. The Alchemist was busy, and the cocktails looked interesting - but there was no Steampunk theming that we could see, so we moved on to a pub called The Wellington which the Young Man had discovered while doing training in Birmingham.
This was more like it - a Victorian style pub with about a dozen hand pumps on the bar, each of them serving an interesting, and often local, beer. The Thoughtless stout was very strong, but very tasty.
Then we headed back down the hill to the BrewDog pub, where we had dinner, with more excellent beer. It was the perfect way to wind down, and we were enjoying the music there, too.
So we missed the Dead Dog Party in the hotel in favour of an early night.


We had a fantastic weekend, and the scrambled eggs at breakfast every morning were delicious, and the girl who cleaned our room was lovely - she'd never seen anything quite like the Convention before - and we met lots of interesting and lovely people, and just had a great time!

Monday, 1 May 2017

Innominate - EasterCon Sunday

I've been ill, and thus not blogging for a while, but I'm back out of my sick bed now....


A bit blurry (but thank you to the chap behind the registration desk for taking the picture) - we spent the day as Holmes and Watson, and got an embarrassingly large number of Hall Costume tokens, since these costumes were assembled from fairly ordinary clothes which we happened to have in our wardrobes rather than anything specially made.

Sunday at EasterCon for us was Science Day! It was quite impressive just how many real scientists were at the Con, and at the Bio-hacking panel we had a group of speakers who were all experts in their fields, including one chap who works at Cambridge and was dressed in a smart blazer from The Prisoner - we saw him going round with a lady dressed in the striped cape from the series later. The discussion covered body modifications of all sorts, including having chlorophyll in your skin so you could take nourishment from the sun rather than eat food, and some of the possible consequences of various modifications.

After that, astronomy, with Seven New Planets! Squeeee!. On the panel for this discussion there was a space physicist and an astrophysicist - one looks at space within the solar system, and the other looks further away. The discussion wasn't just about the new planets discovered around Trappist-1 - it also covered human colonisation and sending robots into space.
There was a discussion about BREXIT and Science later in the evening, which we didn't go to, but which was reportedly well attended, if somewhat depressing. One of the things that came up was the possibility that the UK could be seen as a rogue nuclear state until things get sorted out, as at the moment, the UK comes under the EU committee on nuclear regulation, which will cease when the UK leaves the EU - and keeping the nuclear industry well-regulated is kind of important....

The Con had a pretty strong Disability in SF thread running through it, and so the next thing we went to was the Wheelchair Martial Arts Demonstration. I'd seen Al Davison in the dealers' room - as well as being an accomplished martial artist, he's an artist who works on comic books. I bought a pencil sketch of Jon Pertwee from him, and the Young Man was very pleased to find a graphic novel on his stall he'd been looking for, with an introduction by Neil Gaiman. He also has a film background, and for a recent film that he worked on, he developed a choreographed fight scene between an able bodied man and a man in a wheelchair (himself). With the help of two able bodied martial artists, he demonstrated - how film fight scenes go for the larger, more visually interesting moves, whereas if a person is attacked in the street (and he said he used to get regularly beaten up by people who thought it would be funny to tip someone out of their wheelchair - until they actually tried it) they need to go for the fastest and most efficient way to end the fight, because disabled people often don't have the stamina for a long fight.
He talked about his background in martial arts - meeting a Chinese man and his sister when he was young, who had come to Britain when their village had been destroyed. They had survived only because of the man's habit of meditating by a waterfall at 4am, so were not in the village when everyone else was killed. After a long time when young Al went to watch the man do his practice every day, the man agreed to take Al on as a student.
He also talked about disabled people in film - if you see an amputation of a limb on film, it's almost always a disabled actor who has lost that limb on screen - but it's a lot more difficult for disabled actors to graduate to speaking roles. Years ago, he was one of a group of disabled actors who went for the casting of the starring role in My Left Foot - they were all taken out of the queue and sent home, and only able-bodied actors were considered. Conversely, the makers of Kingsman, more recently, actively looked for a double amputee to play the assassin with blades, and none of the double amputee actors available wanted to do it, so they eventually went for an able bodied actress and CGI. Although it seemed like a very cool idea, the amputee actors were concerned that the character was using their disability to maim others - and maybe it would have been better for the film makers to have re-thought that character.
It was a fascinating and thought-provoking session.

And in the afternoon, Pat Cadigan Explained it All For Us. I'd been vaguely aware of her name as an SF writer, but never really taken much notice of her work. And then when she was introduced as one of the Guests of Honour of the Con she greeted the audience with "I'm Pat Cadigan, bitches!" in a broad American accent and - well, what a fascinating woman she turned out to be! Her talk was mainly about her life, starting with some life-changing incidents involving anaphylactic shock, near death experiences, vaginal sponges which were not in a good place.... and her next sentence began "My son...."
She held the audience in the palm of her hand, talked honestly about her terminal cancer (she came to the Con with a carer), and is determined to enjoy life as much as she possibly can while she can.
I went straight down to the dealers' room after the talk and bought the only book I could see with her name on it - Synners.

We walked round the lake for dinner, back at the World Bar, where the girl behind the bar asked us if we were enjoying our weekend. She said she'd seen a few people with Con badges coming over, some in costume, so she was aware something was going on at the other side of the lake.

The last part of the evening was a world premiere! The performers were Pauline Haas on concert harp, and Thomas Bloch on three of the strangest instruments I've ever seen. They were the ondes Martenot (invented in 1919 by a wireless operator who wanted an instrument which could reproduce the sort of sounds a radio makes when you're trying to tune into something), the glass harmonica, which is 37 glass bowls, carefully graded to give different notes, on a revolving spindle - the principle is like rubbing your finger round the rim of a wine glass. This one is the oldest instrument, invented by Benjamin Franklin, and some classical music has been composed for it. And then there's the cristal Baschet, invented in 1952 to make electronic type noises acoustically - there are glass rods and an odd shaped gong. Basically, it makes the sort of sounds that were popular for 1950s SF B movie soundtracks.
It was a fascinating recital, with classical pieces, and film and TV scores - including the world premiere of the music for Blade Runner 2049 (though the film is not yet out, so the music may change between now and then). TV music included Twin Peaks, Being Human and Monk. Films were Chant d'Atalyante, The Elephant Man, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Fellini's Casanova and The Fifth Element, and Pauline Haas also played one of her own compositions, La Lyre d'Ys.
I bought Thomas Bloch's CD afterwards, and they were also signing pieces of sheet music for donations to the Con charity, Afghan Mothers.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Innominate - EasterCon Saturday

On Saturday, we were Jedi. I wore the Jedi librarian costume I wore last year - with the addition of two little pins to keep the bands on my shoulders, which worked really well. I was forever fiddling with them to keep them up last year!


And here is the Young Man as a Grey Jedi.

So the first panel we went to had to be the Women of Star Wars, which started slowly and finished in a rush as they found there was more than enough to talk about for an hour!
We had plenty of time to look at the art show and dealers' room, followed by a Kaffeeklatsch with Aliette de Bodard. She was one of the guests of honour last year, which led me to buy The House of Shattered Wings, and earlier in the day I had treated myself to The House of Binding Thorns - more Fallen Angels, and a Vietnamese dragon kingdom below the River Seine.
After that was the BSFA Award ceremony (I spent some time on Friday running round trying to find the box for votes, and ended up leaving my voting form in Ops, because that was where the votes were going to be counted).
The best novel was Europe in Winter by Dave Hutchinson. Best short story was Liberty Bird by Jaine Fenn. Best non-fiction work was Geoff Ryman's 100 African Writers in SFF, which he wrote for Tor.com, and best artwork was the cover for Central Station by Sarah Anne Langton.

And then the big screens in Kings, the biggest hall, were set up for Doctor Who - which was awesome! I loved Bill, and the way she became a Companion, and I'm looking forward to the rest of the season.

And to finish the evening off, we went to the filk session. The Young Man came away inspired to write lyrics! I brought along a song book I'd bought at WorldCon 87 - one of the other filkers in the room sang one of his own songs, Hoopiness, which happened to be in my book (The Drunken Rabble Project), so I got him to sign it for me. Later, I sang Welsh History 101b (failed), and when I looked up from the page, it was straight at the name badge of the writer of the song! So I got him to sign the book, too. It was that or sink through the floor with embarrassment! One of the other singers in the room was a girl called Shadow, who sang one of her own songs based on the Mercedes Lackey Vandemar series (which I have fond memories of). We'd seen her earlier in the Kaffeeklatsch, when she was really quiet and shy, so it was a bit of a surprise to hear such a lovely voice.

Friday, 21 April 2017

Innominate - EasterCon 2017 - Thursday and Friday

Remember the good old 1980s? I thought I did - I went to the Metropole Hotel at Birmingham International airport several times for Star Trek Conventions.
It's all changed, of course. I remember walking across to the hotel from the station, but this time we were very happy to take the courtesy bus, because I didn't recognise anything! There's a whole new building next to the lake called Resort World - where we found a nice place to eat and sample interesting beers from round the world called World Bar. The Young Man was especially pleased to find some Icelandic Einstock beer.
Since we'd arrived early, we volunteered to help with the setting up. In the end, there wasn't much for us to do beyond moving some panels about, setting chairs out, and cheering the Thunderbird-esque machine which trundled into the middle of the dealers' room so that Tech could run cables across the ceiling with skyhooks. We also spent some time chatting to a very interesting couple who seemed to know everything there was to know about running conventions - so it was lovely to see them accepting the Doc Weir Award for fans who work hard behind the scenes, at the Closing Ceremony on Monday.

On Friday, our first costumes of the weekend were Steampunk Victorian adventurers. As Miss Amelia Harper, I'd just come out of the desert where I'd been digging a lost city with Gertrude Bell, and the Young Man was Cutter Conway, world traveller - and willing to indulge in various shady dealings for the right price.
The first panel we went to was From LGBT to QUILTBAG, talking about all the different varieties of gender and sexuality, and how they can be incorporated in SF and Fantasy, so that stories are more realistically diverse.
The history of comics was next, with Jack Kirby at 100 - I hadn't realised just how wide his influence was.
The panel on Preparing Your Manuscript for Submission was well attended, and the lady running it, Joanne Hall, who works for Kristell Ink as acquisitions editor, gave a lot of sensible advice.

Then it was time for The Explosive Opening Ceremony, at which the guests of honour were introduced. These were Colin Harris, fan and scientist, Pat Cadigan, writer, and Judith Clute, artist.
And then Dr Emma King took over for the explosive part. She workfor the Royal Institution in an educational capacity which seems to involve blowing a lot of things up!
Here's a photo taken by David Lascelles, where she had three children on stage as volunteers, who had to put an asprin into a film canister with some water, and then run like mad to the other side of the stage before it blew up!


I had taken a short piece of writing to read out at the Open Mic - but the room had problems with the lights, and nobody could find the person who was supposed to be organising it, so we headed off to the fan lounge to eat before the stalls closed at 8pm. We ate very well over the weekend, and there was a constantly changing variety of food on offer - we never did get round to the Jamaican goat curry, though the Thai green curry was very nice. And we were also in the right place for the last event of our evening - a Literary Beer with Russell Smith:

Saturday, 8 April 2017

Women in Science Dorothy Vaughan

Dorothy Vaughan was the second of the three leads in the film Hidden Figures - the one who wanted the supervisor's job, and taught all the other women in the Colored Computers section to use FORTRAN so that they could use the new IBM computer and not lose their jobs doing the manual calculations for NASA.
She joined the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Lab in 1943, for what she thought would be a temporary job for the duration of the Second World War. She had previously been a maths teacher. She became the first black supervisor of the West Area Computers, and an expert in FORTRAN, though not quite as it happened in the film.

Friday, 31 March 2017

Women in Science - Katherine Goble Johnson


I've just been to see Hidden Figures, the film about Katherine Goble, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, who all did outstanding work for NASA in the early days of space exploration.
Katherine Goble was the "computer" who calculated the trajectories of rockets. She worked on the early missions of Alan Shepherd and John Glenn, and on the Apollo 11 mission, right up to space shuttle flights in the 1980s. She's still alive at the age of 98, and has said of the film Hidden Figures: "It was well-done. The three leading ladies did an excellent job portraying us."
Along the way, she was one of the first African-Americans to attend graduate school at West Virginia University, and the first African-American woman to do so. The film points out the many difficulties of living in a segregated society - it wasn't easy for any of them, and they had to be extraordinarily determined to do what they wanted to do.
She had three daughters, Constance, Joylette and Katherine, and after her first husband died of a brain tumour, she married James Johnson - and they've been together ever since. They still live in Hampton, Virginia, near the NASA Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory where she did her work.
On May 5, 2016, a new 40,000-square-foot building was named Katherine G. Johnson Computational Research Facility and formally dedicated at the agency’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, and Katherine Johnson was there as guest of honour. It was the 55th anniversary of Alan Shepherd's flight, for which she had provided crucial calculations.

And here she is recieving the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama:

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Trowelblazers - Tatiana Proskouriakoff


Tatiana Proskouriakoff was a Russian archaeologist whose speciality was Mayan culture. She was born in Tomsk in 1909, and her father was sent to the US in 1915 by Czar Nicholas II to oversee the production of munitions for the First World War. When the Revolution happened in 1917, the family were forced to stay in the USA, and Tatiana only visited Russia again once, to meet fellow Mayanist Yuri Knorozov.
Initially trained as an architect, she went to work for the University of Pennsylvania Museum in 1936, on the Mayan site at Piedras Negras, between Mexico and Guatamala. Here she discovered the discipline which would become her life's work, and led to positions at the Carnegie Institution in Washington DC, and later Harvard University.
During the Second World War, she worked on the translation of Mayan heiroglyphs, making significant contributions to the field.
She became the honorary curator of Mayan art at the Peabody Museum on 1958, where she also taught a number of young women who went on to work in the field of Maya archaeology, and she died in 1985. She was buried at Piedras Negras, in Structure J-23, on Easter Sunday, 1998, where there is a plaque in her honour. Another plaque in her honour has been set up in her home town of Lansdowne, Pennsylvania.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Lady Gardeners


I found this picture on Twitter, shared by Kew Gardens. It's how the first young women who worked as gardeners at Kew dressed (so as not to "distract" anyone!) in 1896.

Monday, 13 March 2017

Local History I Never Knew

Occasionally, I read the blog Beamish Buildings, because one of the staff at Beamish is the daughter of a woman I went to school with. Just recently, Shannon has been researching Georgian hearse houses, which were built in churchyards, as they are building one at Beamish at the moment.
She's been looking at examples of surviving hearse houses across the North of England - and one of the best sources mentioned in the blog is at St Mary's, Prestwich.

What?


I used to go to this church as a child - I went to the C of E Primary School, and we occasionally used the church for services. I remember a carol concert when I was in the choir - we were doing it by candlelight and torch in case (or possibly because) of a power cut. Graham Ward, from my class, sang the solo first verse of Once in Royal David's City from the back of the church, and it was so beautiful....
I also remember a service where I had been chosen to do a reading from the pulpit (I could only just see over the top). It hadn't occured to me to mention this honour to the rest of my family - my gran found out by accident, and came to stand in the back of the church to listen to me. I was so focussed on what I was doing, I never noticed her.
It's also the church usually used for filming when they need a church in Coronation Street!

So I remember the church, but I don't remember a hearse house!

It seems the local history of the area where I grew up was more interesting than I had imagined.

Friday, 3 March 2017

Trowelblazers - Dorothea Bate, Welsh Palaeontologist

Since it's close to St David's Day, I thought I'd choose a Welsh archaeologist this time. Dorothea Bate was born in Carmarthenshire, the daughter of a police superintendant.
In 1898, when she was nineteen, she went down to London and talked her way into a job at the Natural History Museum - and stayed there for fifty years. Her first job was sorting bird skins and later she prepared fossils, being paid piece work, by the number of fossils she prepared. She was learning all the time, and in 1901 she published her first scientific paper, "A short account of a bone cave in the Carboniferous limestone of the Wye valley", which appeared in the Geological Magazine.
She also visited Cyprus, first at her own expense and in 1902 with a small grant from the Royal Society, where she discovered the fossil bones of a new species of dwarf elephant, which she named elephas Cypriotes. She was able to do this with the help of a family connection on the island.
Later she visited other Mediterranean islands, making other discoveries of previously unknown prehistoric fauna. She was known for using dynomite to get at the fossil layers! Most of this work was financed from her own pocket, and she was unable to become a scientific member of staff with the museum, as this was forbidden to women until 1928.


The Coves dels Coloms in Majorca, where Dorothea Bate found the remains of Myotragus balearicus, the mouse goat

She became friendly with the archaeologists working at Knossos, including Sir Arthur Evans, while working in Crete, and in the 1920s worked with Professor Dorothy Garrod in Palestine. In 1937, they published The Stone Age of Mount Carmel, detailing the prehistoric fauna found there, including a hippopotomus.
In China, she worked with Percy Lowe on fossil ostriches - and she also found a fossil giant tortoise in Bethlehem!
She was consulted throughout her career by other archaeologists, including Louis Leakey, for her expertise in identifying fossil bones.
During the Second World War, she was transferred from London to Tring, where she eventually became officer-in-charge when she was nearly seventy. She died in 1951, and sadly, shortly after that, her personal papers were destroyed in a house fire. Her field notebooks, however, have been preserved at the Natural History Museum, including detailed maps of the islands where she worked.
Last year she was the subject of an episode of a Radio 4 series called Natural History Heroes (still available on iplayer), and there is also a book called Discovering Dorothea by Karolyn Shindler.

Friday, 24 February 2017

Zhou Shu Liang, Painter of Native American Scenes

Over on Facebook, I've been sharing beautiful art to break up the relentless bad news of current affairs, and I came across this artist. Zhou Shu Liang was born in China, and comes from a family of artists. In 1982, he moved to the United States and gained his BFA in painting from Massachusetts College of Arts in 1986, and his MFA from Boston University in 1989.
While he was there, he spent some time painting scenes of the Wampanoag Indian culture at the outdoor museum in Plymouth, Massachusetts. He's made Native American culture his speciality since then, and his paintings are beautifully detailed. He pays a lot of attention to historical accuracy, and has made many contacts and friends among Native tribes across the US.
Many of his pictures show Native warriors, but the one I particularly liked when I visited his website at www.liangstudio.com was this one:


It's called Pueblo Market 1920 - and it immediately made me think of one of the main characters in my Steampunk stories. The white lady bending over the little girl's wares is just as I imagine Amelia Harper would be.

ZS Liang's prints and paintings are available at several galleries in the United States.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Oblivion Storm by RA Smith

I met Russell Smith at a couple of EasterCons, and saw him speak on several panels, where he was interesting and amusing, so when I saw his book on a stall at EasterCon last year, I had to give it a go.
It says something about the length of my "waiting to be read" shelf that I've only just now got round to reading it!
I thought I was getting a Victorian mystery at first, with a plucky street urchin become heiress heroine....
and then we were in a modern tube station, where a different woman was being attacked.
From then on, the time line moved between the two, as the modern woman tried to regain her memory after the attack, and work out why someone was trying to kill her, and the Victorian lady appeared to her as a ghost, and went through her own adventure in her own timeline.
There's lots of action, maybe a little too graphically described for my tastes (but I am a bit of a wuss), so what I liked were the quieter moments where "Rose" worked out how to use the new supernatural powers she'd acquired to help ghosts move on. The scene with the ghost in the pub was very good. "Rose" also gets two fun sidekicks in the form of Kara the paranormal researcher and Jennifer, who has superpowers of her own.
But it all comes back to Grenshall Manor in the end, and the secret in the North Wing.

This is book one of a series, and I also have Book 2 waiting, which I'm looking forward to.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Fishe or Fowle

I saw a recommendation for a CD on Twitter a while ago, and it sounded interesting enough for me to order the CD.
It's traditional music at its finest, performed by Kate Fletcher and Corwen Broch, on a variety of interesting and obscure instruments such as the Kravik lyre, Trossingen lyre, Saxon lyre, the slovisha gusli (whatever that might be!), Welsh crwth and pibgorn, bagpipes and more. And some fine singing as well. They even include a list of the instrument makers who made the instruments used on the CD - and in the list of people they thank, they include "the trees and animals whose dead bodies made our instruments".
There are two CDs in the sleeve. The first has a variety of songs such as The Seal-Woman's Sea-Joy and other songs about seal-folk, the Song of the Travelling Fairies, and the title track Fishe or Fowle - a song about shape shifting.
The second CD is one long epic The Play o'de Lathie Odivere, sung once with musical accompaniment and once without. The song was first collected in the Orkneys in the 1800s, but the tune was collected in 1938 in Orkney by Professor Otto Andersson of Finland.
It's a quite magical album - it certainly transported me to another world while I was listening - and it can be found at www.ancientmusic.co.uk

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Women in Science Day

Apparently, it's World Women in Science Day, so I thought I'd share a photo of an astrophysicist called Naziyah Mahmood:


As well as being an astrophysicist, she did her postgraduate work in Space Mission Analysis and Design. She has worked for the European Space Agency and has also worked on particle physics projects with data from CERN. As a STEM Development Manager, her role was to promote gender equality in science and engineering fields. (STEM is Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths).
The YWCA chose her as one of Scotland's Most Inspirational Women Under 30, and EQUATE Scotland (an organisation for gender equality in science) chose her as an Inspiring Woman in STEM.
She was born in Scotland, and her family is of English, Pakistani and Arab origins. Most of her family are engineers, and she is also a hijab-wearing Muslim.

Naziyah practices martial arts, particularly the Korean style of Haidong Gumdo, with swords.
And she's a poet and short story writer.
And she's acted in the adaptation of a novel by Amy Hoff, Caledonia, which became a web series.
She also cosplays.

And she's done all of this with eyesight poor enough to be described as "partially blind" (which at the moment rules her out of her ambition to be an astronaut, for which applicants need 20/20 vision).

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Captain Apollo Dies

The original one, that is - Richard Hatch, back in the 1970s when Battlestar Galactica was cheesy, and cost $1 million an episode. He had pancreatic cancer.
Gosh, I fancied him in Battlestar Galactica. He was never cheesy, just some of the stuff around him - Captain Apollo was always noble and heroic (and I was a soppy teenager). I even liked him in The Streets of San Fransisco, when he replaced Michael Douglas.

Saturday, 28 January 2017

RIP John Hurt

A wonderful actor - he'll be fondly remembered as the War Doctor, The Naked Civil Servant, The Elephant Man, and many more. He was the voice of Aragorn in the 1970s Lord of the Rings cartoon, and driven mad by the Crystal Skulls in that Indiana Jones film no-one talks about.
On Twitter, all sorts of people are saying what a wonderful person he was off-screen as well.

Friday, 27 January 2017

Trowelblazers - Eve Stewart and Cyprus

Eve Stewart was the second wife of James Stewart, of Sydney University. James had a long interest in the archaeology of Cyprus - he requested to be posted there during the Second World War, but spent most of the war as a POW. He also bequeathed his large collection of books about Cyprus to the Cyprus Museum before he began his war service.
His first wife, Eleanor, was also an archaeologist, and she assisted him on his early digs in Cyprus.


After the War, he headed back to Australia via Cyprus - he was to become the first person to teach archaeology formally at an Australian University. On the way met Eve Dray, who shared his interest in the archaeology of Cyprus. He arranged for Eve to come to Australia as his "technical assistant", and in 1951 he divorced Eleanor and married Eve.
James died in 1962, and Eve spent the next 50 years completing his work. She had some influence over the way the Department of Archaeology in Sydney University developed, and it was the collection put together by James and Eve that formed the basis of the Cypriot Collection in the Nicholson Museum.
There is a biography of the couple called Love's Obsession, by Judy Powell.

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Women Warriors - Scottish Broadsword Champion Jean Gordon


In 1897, Miss Jean Gordon (aged 24) announced her intention to meet all comers with the sword in the Boston Illustrated Police News! She had recently defeated a Captain Tom Shields in Boston.
The paper noted that she was "very pleasant and modest in demeanour"!
In 1895, she had met the noted swordswoman Ella Hattan, also known as "Jaguarina", in a broadsword bout. One of the judges was Col. Thomas Monstery, who had trained Ella. It was reported in the Daily Inter Ocean, but I've been unable to discover who won that fight, or even if the fight actually took place.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Wicked Girls by Seanan McGuire

I first heard of Seanan McGuire when she was one of the guests of honour at the last but one EasterCon, held in a hotel at Heathrow. She was jet-lagged, and introduced herself by waving a hand towards the audience and proclaiming: "Everything is lizards!"
This did not stop her from doing talks and taking a full part in the Convention, though, and I'd seen enough to know that I wanted to track down some of her books.
I haven't quite managed that yet (my list of books I want to read is exceedingly long) but a little while ago I discovered that Seanan McGuire is also a singer. I came across a slightly ropy YouTube video of her singing Wicked Girls on stage at a US Convention, and instantly sent off for the CD.
It arrived today; I've just been playing it, and it does not disappoint!
The title track mentions famous girls of children's fantasy literature - Wendy, Dorothy, Alice, Susan and Lucy, and Jane. These were the good girls, who had adventures and then went back to boring reality. The song celebrates the wicked girls, who choose to carry on having adventures. "It's better to fly and it's better to die
Say the wicked girls saving ourselves."
But this is only one of 16 songs, about Snow Queens and mermaids, fairy tales and carnival lights, crows and ghosts, with accompaniment from various musicians on guitar, flute, harp, fiddle, drums, piano, cello and djembe.
And apparently, this is Seanan McGuire's fourth album, so I may well be going back to CD Baby (who took the CD from the shelf on a satin cushion, and bore it lovingly to the packing room, and held a party when they sent it off to me, putting my picture on the wall as their customer of the year - or so they said!) for more.

Saturday, 14 January 2017

An 18th Century Indian in England - Sake Dean Mahomed

Sake Dean Mahomed (born Shiekh Din Muhammad) was born in Patna, India, in 1759. His father worked for the East India Company. His father died when he was young, and he went into service at the age of ten with Captain Godfrey Evan Baker, serving in the army of the British East India Company as a trainee surgeon. In 1782, Captain Baker resigned from the army, and Sake also resigned, choosing to follow the Captain to England.
He married an Irish girl, Jane Daly, who he met while living with Captain Baker in Ireland. Her family were opposed to the match, so they eloped in 1786, and Sake converted to Anglicanism as it was illegal for non-Protestants to marry Protestants at the time.
In 1794, he wrote his first travel book, The Travels of Dean Mahomed, in which he described several cities in India as well as military conflicts in India.
In 1810, the family moved to London and opened the first ever Indian restaurant in England. It was called the Hindoostanee Coffee House, in George Street near Portman Square. As well as serving curry, it offered hookahs to smoke - but the venture was not successful and ended due to financial difficulties.
He moved on to Brighton, where he opened a massage parlour and steam bath - which he termed "shampooing" from the Indian word champooi, for massage. This was described as a remedy for aches, sprains, rheumatism and other similar ailments, and Sake became famous - he was known as Dr Brighton, and George IV and William IV both used his services.
He died in 1851, and was buried in Brighton.

His son Frederick opened a gymnasium in Brighton where he taught fencing, boxing and gymnastics, and ran a Turkish Bath.

His grandson, another Frederick, became a renowned physician, working at Guy's Hospital in London and doing work on high blood pressure.
Another grandson, James, became Vicar of Hove in Sussex.

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Women Warriors - Minnie Spotted Wolf


Minnie Spotted Wolf was a member of the Blackfoot tribe, and she joined the Marine Corps Women's Reserve in 1943 - she was the first Native American woman to do so. She grew up working on her father's ranch, including breaking horses, so she was used to hard outdoor work.
During the Second World War, she worked as a driver for visiting officers in Hawaii and California, and operating heavy machinery.
Her story was even featured in a comic book of the time - "Calling All Girls".
After the war, she trained as a teacher, and she married and had four children.
She died in 1988, at the age of 65.

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Trowelblazers - Edith Hall Dohan

Edith Hall Dohan was the first student to be awarded a PhD in classical archaeology by Bryn Mawr College, in 1906. She was also the first Bryn Mawr student to become a Fellow in Athens, in 1903 when she joined the American School of Classical Studies - she was the only female student that year. She studied Mycenaean and Cretan pottery there, and met Harriet Boyd, joining her at the dig at Gournia, Crete in 1904 for her first field experience. Her letters home, to her parents and older sister Anne, paint a vivid picture of life for a woman archaeologist in the 1900s.


Later, she taught archaeology at Mount Holyoke College, while continuing to dig in Crete on behalf of the University of Pennsylvania Museum, then known as the Free Museum of Science and Art. At Vrokastro, she became the second American woman to direct a dig on Crete, and the third in Greece. In 1912 she left her teaching post to work for the Museum full time.
In 1915, she married, and took a break in her career to bring up two children while teaching part time.
In 1931, she returned to the University of Pennsylvania Museum to take up the post of associate curator of the Mediterranean Section. She was also the book review editor for the American Journal of Archaeology at this time.
Her last important work was a book on Etruscan Tombs. She died suddenly at her desk in 1943.

Monday, 2 January 2017

Vera Rubin, Astronomer


It seems a pity to only find out about people like this when they die.
Vera Rubin was an astronomer, who found evidence for the existance of dark matter thanks to her work on mapping the motion of stars within spiral galaxies. She found that the stars in the outer regions of the spiral move at about the same speed as the ones in the middle, leading to the hypothesis that most of the universe is filled with "dark matter", which we cannot detect directly. In the solar system, the outer planets move more slowly than the inner planets. According to general relativity, the stars should shoot off into space, but some unseen matter must be providing extra gravitational pull to cause them to stay within the galaxy.

During her career, Princeton declined to send her a course catalogue because they didn't accept women (she went to Cornell, where she met her husband), she had to talk to the astrophysicist George Gamow in the lobby of the building because they would not allow women in the offices, and when she became the first woman to be given access to the Palomar Mountain 200 inch telescope in California, she found there was no women's toilet.
She never won a Nobel prize, but she did win a gold medal from the Royal Astronomical Society - the first woman to do so since Catherine Herschel in 1828.