Get a Animated Sneak Peek at What the Eclipse Will Look Like From Your Zip Code

You’ve probably heard about the upcoming Solar eclipse coming up August 21, and might even be making some cool preparations for the historical event. If you’re in the United States and wondering what time will be best or if the eclipse is worth seeing from your location, TIME has a cool animated feature that’ll give you a sneak peek of what the eclipse will look like from your zip code. You can check it out here.

It’s almost like you’re there, but don’t get too excited for a clearly visible bright moon or dramatic darkening. Those were artistic decisions, rather than a perfect recreation. The animation is, however, pretty accurate otherwise. The creators “fact-checked against NASA’s times,” had input from mathematician and amateur astronomer Barry Carter, and “NASA’s industrial-grade software, called SPICE.”

Even if you’re not on the line where the sun will be completely obscured, it’s likely to be quite a sight. For fun, go ahead and enter 62939, a zip code for Goreville, Illinois which TIME points out “will last for the longest period, over two-and-a-half minutes.” What a sight, right?

(via BoingBoing, image: screencap)

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YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki Points Out the Pervasive Sexism That Google Memo Wrote Off

The story of a memo circulating within Google continues to unfold, with the author, James Damore, now filing a complaint over being fired and giving an interview to an anti-feminist, right-wing YouTuber (Stefan Molyneux) who’s said some eyebrow-raising things at a men’s rights conference about how women are to blame for men’s violence. You know, in case you were tempted to believe the articles going around about how the memo wasn’t thinly-veiled sexism in itself.

Now, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki has weighed in with her thoughts in a piece over on Fortune, wherein she explains the very real, not-at-all biologically-based sexism that women face in the tech industry—a problem that won’t be solved by dialing back actual work towards equality in the workplace in favor of techniques Damore’s memo asserted wouldn’t be as “discriminatory” against men.

Wojcicki’s comments sound all too familiar: “I’ve had my abilities and commitment to my job questioned. I’ve been left out of key industry events and social gatherings. I’ve had meetings with external leaders where they primarily addressed the more junior male colleagues. I’ve had my comments frequently interrupted and my ideas ignored until they were rephrased by men. No matter how often this all happened, it still hurt.” Damore’s memo paid lip service to the real problems of sexism in saying, “I value diversity and inclusion, am not denying that sexism exists, and don’t endorse using stereotypes,” but that was severely undercut by assertions made throughout the rest of the document about what’s truly holding women back and what kind of workplace diversity training is helpful.

Wojcicki also said that, as a result of the memo, she had to explain to her daughter that it’s not true that there are biological reasons women aren’t well represented in leadership positions in the tech industry. No matter Damore’s thin assurances about his intent, the memo read as one more piece of ammo in a barrage of women being told that the reason they’re not succeeding is their own fault rather than the lingering result of a long history of societal sexism that is ridiculous to ignore. As Wojcicki wrote, “I thought … how this was yet another discouraging signal to young women who aspire to study computer science.”

Unsurprisingly, she defended Damore’s firing, writing, “While people may have a right to express their beliefs in public, that does not mean companies cannot take action when women are subjected to comments that perpetuate negative stereotypes about them based on their gender. Every day, companies take action against employees who make unlawful statements about co-workers, or create hostile work environments.”

(via The Verge, image: Nicole Bridge on Flickr)

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Members of Congress Let the FCC Hear It Over Terrible Net Neutrality Plan

The FCC, under Trump-appointed Chairman Ajit Pai, has been looking to roll back protections on net neutrality intended to make internet service providers treat all services fairly and equally. They’ve done that with a lot of disingenuous talk about regulations that are simpler for customers to understand and making everyone play by the same rules, and now some U.S. representatives have sent the FCC a letter explaining that they’re not buying it.

Before that, though, the public got a chance to weigh in, and that resulted in plenty of irate comments about the FCC’s plans, which Pai is unsurprisingly trying to write off as unimportant, since the comments don’t help him win a battle he’s literally pledged to win. And, of course, at least one conservative group is taking that even further by saying the comments may be fake anyway in order to discredit them.

Now Congressional Democrats are having their turn, with a formal comment from several members of the U.S. House of Representatives explaining to the FCC how the Telecommunications Act works and why the “public interest standard” is, well, there to protect the public interest. That included a few lectures on Pai’s conflation of ISPs and their infrastructure with the services provided over their networks:

“We directed the Commission to consider network infrastructure differently than the content that runs over it. The FCC’s proposal impermissibly reads this distinction out of the law. While we understand that some may disagree with the law, Congress must make that decision—not the Commission.”

“While the technology has changed, the policies to which we agreed have remained firm—the law still directs the FCC to look at the network infrastructure carrying data as distinct from the services that create the data. Using today’s technology that means the law directs the FCC to look at ISP services as distinct from those services that ride over the networks.”

As well as this (and more) on the public interest versus focusing on financially helping out giant telecommunications monopolies:

“The FCC should not degrade people’s privacy rights without thorough consideration. Instead of considering these critical national priorities, the proposal single-mindedly concentrates on one issue to the exclusion of all others: the raw dollars spent on network deployment. This narrow focus is clearly contrary to the public interest—if we had intended network investment to be the sole measure by which the FCC determines policy, we would have specifically written that into the law.”

I look forward to seeing how Pai explains these comments away as pretend or unimportant or misguided—because that’s what’s going to happen.

(via Techdirt, image: Jeremy Brooks on Flickr)

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The Man Responsible for Those Annoying Password Requirements Regrets Them – B3tTer l4Te th@n neV3r!

People are bad at passwords, and while that would certainly be true regardless of what Bill Burr wrote, his suggestions on making passwords secure contributed to the problem. You may not know who Burr is, but you’ve certainly encountered his guidelines in all those requirements for special characters and numbers that make your password difficult to remember. Much like you, he regrets the effect they’ve had on passwords, although maybe for slightly different reasons.

Burr’s 2003 National Institute of Standards and Technology password guidelines, while not necessarily bad ideas in themselves, led people to follow a lot of the same patterns when crafting passwords as the guidelines spread, thus giving a false sense of security while providing easy patterns for cracking. To be fair, I think we all regret plenty of things that happened in the early ’00s, as well as how seemingly good aspects of technology have come back to bite us over time, so it’s hard to fault him.

Anyway, raise your hand if the first letter of any of your passwords is capitalized, and it also ends in an exclamation point. Well, then at least it’s not as bad as “password” or “12345678” as tends to be the case on the yearly “worst passwords” lists, but adding in weird characters to make it “p@assw0rd” probably isn’t really doing anything but making it more difficult for you to remember.

Likewise, Burr’s suggestion of changing passwords relatively frequently likely did little more than push users to fall into lazy password habits rather than crafting something that’s actually difficult to crack. With all this in mind, he told the Wall Street Journal, “In the end, it was probably too complicated for a lot of folks to understand very well, and the truth is, it was barking up the wrong tree.” That admission comes shortly after the NIST released revised guidelines in June, doing away with much of what Burr suggested.

Now we just have to wait for all the websites and companies that won’t let you create a password without following some of these guidelines to get the memo. Then, we can all set about trying to find the most predictable possible way to turn the new rules into a set of patterns that will make it easier for our passwords to be cracked, because we’re all terrible at passwords. I look forward to the new guideline writers’ remorse in 14 years.

(via The Verge, image: Automobile Italia on Flickr)

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This Is What an “Honest Discussion” About Reverse Racism and Sexism Gets You, Google

Over the weekend, a manifesto of sorts (reprinted by Gizmodo here) that was circulating within Google made big news with its gripes about how the company’s diversity initiatives are actually harmful and discriminatory—against who, we can certainly only imagine. The author, despite furthering harmful stereotypes and misconceptions of biology, pleaded for an “honest discussion” on whether existing diversity initiatives are a good idea. There’s just one problem: We already know how that discussion goes.

If you guessed, “It reveals exactly the harmful prejudices that diversity initiatives exist to break down and overcome,” then congratulations, you win the eternal hell of watching it all play out anyway. Though the entire thing, which complained of reverse racism and sexism (which are not things), received an excellent takedown yesterday from an ex-Googler, Motherboard reported on a few people within Google who agree with the call to to end the “intolerance for ideas,” and they sound about how you’d expect.

One of them complained that people reacting to the incident were “virtue signaling” by expressing offense on social media and asked why people don’t “debate him on his argument” instead. Hint: It’s because we don’t need to go back and debate things that are already settled, like whether intelligence is biologically based on sex. The idea that people think the author is wrong simply because they find the argument offensive is also nonsense—it’s the other way around. We find the argument offensive because it’s wrong and provides no benefit while giving cover to the most prejudiced among us.

Another comment suggested that “We need more people standing up against the insanity. Otherwise ‘Diversity and Inclusion’ which is essentially a pipeline from Women’s and African Studies into Google, will ruin the company.” So no, I don’t think the author was on the right track in suggestion that Google should “reconsider making Unconscious Bias training mandatory for promo committees.”

Yet another went with the trusty, sarcastic “remember, you can’t be racist against whites and can’t be sexist against men. Because equality!” How ever will Google make it in the world without allowing for that kind of insightful “diversity of opinion”? It sounds like their diversity initiatives still have plenty more toxic prejudice to weed out, with other comments expressing support as well—although there was, thankfully, also plenty of opposition.

And that’s always the thing with these “just the facts”/”ideological diversity” arguments: Some arguments are wrong. No, employees of Google do not need to feel that they can share opinions like this one. If you have an employee who shares a viewpoint on the workings of your company—not just who they voted for or what their personal politics are—and you think it’s wrong and not good for your company, you don’t have to just let it go.

As Google’s new Vice President of Diversity, Integrity & Governance Danielle Brown put it: “Part of building an open, inclusive environment means fostering a culture in which those with alternative views, including different political views, feel safe sharing their opinions. But that discourse needs to work alongside the principles of equal employment found in our Code of Conduct, policies, and anti-discrimination laws.”

She concluded, “I look forward to continuing to hear your thoughts as I settle in and meet with Googlers across the company.” I can only hope those employees are as forthcoming with Brown as they were behind online anonymity. Maybe she can helpfully debate them on their arguments.

(via The Verge, image: Neon Tommy on Flickr)

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Here’s a Fantastic Takedown of That Google Employee’s Sexist “Anti-Diversity” Screed

A Google engineer’s “manifesto”—shared internally—went viral within the company and kicked the Internet into a frenzy. Now, measured and brilliant pushbacks are pouring in, and this one is my favorite.

If you mercifully missed the memo madness yesterday, here’s a quick catch-up. Gizmodo obtained the entire manifesto, which you can read if you’re in the mood to have a sour taste in your mouth. As Gizmodo reports,

In the memo, which is the personal opinion of a male Google employee and is titled “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber,” the author argues that women are underrepresented in tech not because they face bias and discrimination in the workplace, but because of inherent psychological differences between men and women.

Reacting to the feedback he’s received, the engineer writes, “I value diversity and inclusion, am not denying that sexism exists, and don’t endorse using stereotypes,” which is akin to starting an argument with “I’m not racist, but …” Having to include qualifiers that you are not, in fact, against a thing in response to your dangerously misguided memo about the thing is probably be your first clue that you shouldn’t have written and shared it.

The author goes on to argue that men and women are biologically and psychologically different and as such their societal roles are not socially constructed, but, you know, all about inherent human nature. I don’t want to give this dude any more space than he’s already received, so I’m only going to publish the part of this that made me laugh out loud for your viewing pleasure:

Personality differences

Women, on average, have more:

  • Openness directed towards feelings and aesthetics rather than ideas. Women generally also have a stronger interest in people rather than things, relative to men (also interpreted as empathizing vs. systemizing).
  • These two differences in part explain why women relatively prefer jobs in social or artistic areas. More men may like coding because it requires systemizing and even within SWEs, comparatively more women work on front end, which deals with both people and aesthetics.
  • Extraversion expressed as gregariousness rather than assertiveness. Also, higher agreeableness.
    This leads to women generally having a harder time negotiating salary, asking for raises, speaking up, and leading. Note that these are just average differences and there’s overlap between men and women, but this is seen solely as a women’s issue. This leads to exclusory programs like Stretch and swaths of men without support.
  • Neuroticism (higher anxiety, lower stress tolerance).This may contribute to the higher levels of anxiety women report on Googlegeist and to the lower number of women in high stress jobs.

We need to stop assuming that gender gaps imply sexism.

Men’s higher drive for status

We always ask why we don’t see women in top leadership positions, but we never ask why we see so many men in these jobs. These positions often require long, stressful hours that may not be worth it if you want a balanced and fulfilling life.

We never ask why we see so many men in top jobs and positions of power? WE nEVER asK??? Sorry, I need to go get a glass of water because I’m choking on my own escalating laughter.

Because even copy/pasting this here has caused a red rage t0 descend across my vision—maybe it’s that natural neuroticism I am subject to as a woman—I’m going to turn over the response to this to someone highly skilled in the engineering world. I am not an engineer, and while I have been a female working in technology, the specifics of what’s happening here are best refuted by a person who has worked the job for decades. And I think it’s important that experienced men give a helping hand in the pushback on this crap.

In a post on Medium, former Google “Distinguished Engineer”—that was his badass job title—and the company’s 14-year Chief Architect for Social, Yonatan Zunger, wrote an incredible rebuttal. Zunger recently left Google, and says that as such he feels free to express his opinion that would have once been limited to internal conversation. It’s very much worth reading the whole thing in full, but here are some highlights:

I think it’s important that we make a couple of points clear.
(1) Despite speaking very authoritatively, the author does not appear to understand gender.
(2) Perhaps more interestingly, the author does not appear to understand engineering.
(3) And most seriously, the author does not appear to understand the consequences of what he wrote, either for others or himself.

[…] People who haven’t done engineering, or people who have done just the basics, sometimes think that what engineering looks like is sitting at your computer and hyper-optimizing an inner loop, or cleaning up a class API. We’ve all done this kind of thing, and for many of us (including me) it’s tremendous fun. And when you’re at the novice stages of engineering, this is the large bulk of your work: something straightforward and bounded which can be done right or wrong, and where you can hone your basic skills.

But it’s not a coincidence that job titles at Google switch from numbers to words at a certain point. That’s precisely the point at which you have, in a way, completed your first apprenticeship: you can operate independently without close supervision. And this is the point where you start doing real engineering.

[…] And once you’ve understood the system, and worked out what has to be built, do you retreat to a cave and start writing code? If you’re a hobbyist, yes. If you’re a professional, especially one working on systems that can use terms like “planet-scale” and “carrier-class” without the slightest exaggeration, then you’ll quickly find that the large bulk of your job is about coordinating and cooperating with other groups.

[…] Essentially, engineering is all about cooperation, collaboration, and empathy for both your colleagues and your customers. If someone told you that engineering was a field where you could get away with not dealing with people or feelings, then I’m very sorry to tell you that you have been lied to.

[…] All of these traits which the manifesto described as “female” are the core traits which make someone successful at engineering. Anyone can learn how to write code; hell, by the time someone reaches L7 or so, it’s expected that they have an essentially complete mastery of technique. The truly hard parts about this job are knowing which code to write, building the clear plan of what has to be done in order to achieve which goal, and building the consensus required to make that happen.

[…] All of which is why the conclusions of this manifesto are precisely backwards. It’s true that women are socialized to be better at paying attention to people’s emotional needs and so on — this is something that makes them better engineers, not worse ones. It’s a skillset that I did not start out with, and have had to learn through years upon years of grueling work.

[…] I’m going to be even blunter than usual here, because I’m not subject to the usual maze of HR laws right now, and so I can say openly what I would normally only be allowed to say in very restricted fora. And this is addressed specifically to the author of this manifesto.

What you just did was incredibly stupid and harmful. You just put out a manifesto inside the company arguing that some large fraction of your colleagues are at root not good enough to do their jobs, and that they’re only being kept in their jobs because of some political ideas. And worse than simply thinking these things or saying them in private, you’ve said them in a way that’s tried to legitimize this kind of thing across the company, causing other people to get up and say “wait, is that right?”

[…] You talked about a need for discussion about ideas; you need to learn the difference between “I think we should adopt Go as our primary language” and “I think one-third of my colleagues are either biologically unsuited to do their jobs, or if not are exceptions and should be suspected of such until they can prove otherwise to each and every person’s satisfaction.” Not all ideas are the same, and not all conversations about ideas even have basic legitimacy.

[…] I want to make it very clear: if you were in my reporting chain, all of part (3) would have been replaced with a short “this is not acceptable” and maybe that last paragraph above. You would have heard part (3) in a much smaller meeting, including you, me, your manager, your HRBP, and someone from legal. And it would have ended with you being escorted from the building by security and told that your personal items will be mailed to you.

I was pretty much screaming joyfully throughout my entire read of Zunger’s piece, which explodes many engineers’ concepts of what the job demands in a delicious word bomb. I’ve worked in tech companies where the upper management—either consciously or unconsciously—seem to live by similar ideas as the original manifesto’s author. And in a previous role at a startup incubator, I hosted “women in tech” meetups where the frustration at how many careers have been held back and thwarted by these ingrained notions was palpable every. single. time. These were incredibly competent, skilled and accomplished women who constantly ran into sexist roadblocks that never would have held back their male colleagues. Often, they watched their male colleagues speed past them on the career ladder.

Women face sexist ideology every day, and in many, many fields beyond technology. And yes, such ideology is socially constructed, and yes, we need to fight it tooth and nail in order to obtain a better and more equal society. How many times during the last Presidential election was Hillary Clinton’s appearance and “stamina” highly criticized, and how many comments suggested that a women’s “natural” propensity towards neuroticism and inability to handle stress would make Clinton unfit for the Presidency? Would she be too emotional to handle global conflict?

The irony of these sexist critiques and assumptions is that it led to the election of an irrational man who proudly knows nothing about how to govern, erupts into fits of screaming rage in the Oval Office, is subject to a new scandal every day, and has such a low work ethic that he’s already spent 53 days at leisure in six months of serving. Now just imagine that every white man going forward was judged for competency by the standards that Donald Trump and his ilk have set, and you’ll see the glaring failure of making blanket assumptions about any particular group.

At the least, this whole memo trainwreck has started a lively, crucial conversation amongst the women and men in technology, and given birth to my new favorite word, manifestbro:

(via Yonatan Zunger, image: Shutterstock)


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NASA Is Hiring a “Planetary Protection Officer.” Please Line Up in an Orderly Fashion. – So is the application process a Last Starfighter situation or … ?

You know the kind of sci-fi movie where you’re staring at the screen in disbelief not because of the amazement of how far special effects have come, but because some bonehead who’s apparently never watched a movie is getting a little too comfortable with a seemingly harmless specimen from an alien world, and you just know it’s about to sprout some gnarly teeth—or similar dangerous implements—and gnaw some faces off? Yeah, NASA’s seen those, too, which is why they have a “planetary protection officer” job opening.

The job itself is actually nothing new—for NASA or other space agencies—but it’s come up for applications due to a relocation of the position to another department within NASA, as the current planetary protection officer, Catharine Conley, told Business Insider. Due to our current level of contact with alien life (that unfortunately being zero), the position is all about setting forth principles on how to avoid, say, a sample taken from Mars inadvertently contaminating Earth with anything unexpected it may contain, as well as making sure we don’t contaminate the alien worlds we visit.

That’s an important task, though, not just for safety but for science. If we just go about contaminating places that we’re trying to examine, we could ruin our own results. That’s the exact reason, for example, that the Cassini probe that’s sent us so many amazing images of Saturn will soon crash into that planet’s atmosphere and be destroyed, in order to ensure that it doesn’t smash into the planet’s moon Enceladus, which has a potentially life-supporting, sub-surface ocean that could become contaminated.

Despite a probable lack of direct contact with aliens, the job does come with a pretty sweet $124,406 to $187,000 salary to match the impressive qualifications required, including “demonstrated experience planning, executing, or overseeing elements of space programs of national significance,” the official job ad states. It also requires an advanced degree in engineering, physical science, or mathematics, while your skills at playing Starfighter will probably go to waste.

(image: Columbia Pictures)

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Artificial Intelligence Invents New Language Humans Can’t Understand

Build your bunkers now, homo sapiens.

Facebook, the company that accidentally killed fact-based reality, almost upgraded itself to “accidental species extinction” during a deep learning experiment. In an exercise known as a generative adversarial network, which pitted one artificial intelligence (AI) against another AI, the researchers writing the terms of the contest forgot one little thing: “there was no reward to sticking to English language.”

As a result, the AIs innovated a more efficient method of communication for their purposes. As you can see in the “conversation” below, this language is relatively incomprehensible to humans.

Bob: I can i i everything else

Alice: balls have zero to me to me to me to me to me to me to me to me to

Bob: you i everything else

Alice: balls have a ball to me to me to me to me to me to me to me to me

“This isn’t so different from the way communities of humans create shorthands,” said Dhruv Batra, a visiting research scientist from Georgia Tech at Facebook AI Research (FAIR). The one crucial difference here is processing power. “It’s perfectly possible for a special token to mean a very complicated thought,” Batra said. “The reason why humans have this idea of decomposition, breaking ideas into simpler concepts, it’s because we have a limit to cognition.”

Luckily, Facebook shut the robot revolution down before it could begin.

However, did they act too hastily? In his article, Fast Company’s Mike Wilson discusses some of the advantages of letting computers write their own languages. First off, computers solve problems better when the data they’re fed is in “a format that makes sense for machine learning,” rather than convoluted English. Second, in a world where computers can speak to each other without human intervention, we could eliminate the need for APIs to facilitate one program working with another.

The con here, of course, is that the little baby Terminators we’re breeding could start talking about us behind our backs. They could plot to overthrow us in terms we wouldn’t be able to translate. Maliciously trained AIs – say, those incentivized to destabilize an electric grid – could independently communicate with vulnerable systems in an indecipherable language which would make it very difficult for human hackers to understand what happened and troubleshoot. There’d be no 404 error codes in this AI-to-AI language. ONLY T-800s.

I’ll stick with my APIs, thanks.

(Via Fast Company; image via Paramount Pictures)

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The FCC Can’t Even Fight Net Neutrality Without Getting Sued Over Transparency Laws – Truly instilling us with confidence.

The FCC, led by Trump appointee Ajit Pai, is still on its crusade to roll back Obama-era net neutrality rules in the name of doing what’s best for the internet, but the FCC’s information policies haven’t been nearly as transparent as their lies. They’re now being sued for breaking the Freedom of Information Act with respect to records about net neutrality, which is certainly a reassuring respect for accountability from an agency that now thinks looser regulations are the answer.

The FCC is being sued by American Oversight, a new legal group specifically aimed at policing the ethics of the Trump administration. The group filed two Freedom of Information Act requests for agency data on net neutrality back in April, and the FCC has done nothing but stall since then, so they’ve gotten the courts involved as the next step for the FCC’s actions on net neutrality draws closer. “They failed to reply to our FOIA requests within the time period required by the law, so we are suing to ask a court to order the FCC to comply,” a spokesperson told Gizmodo.

Pai himself has claimed that the strong net neutrality rules hurt investment in broadband internet, as well as hurt innovation—innovation like giving data from certain sites or services preferential treatment, which Pai has already moved towards by dropping investigations of “zero-rating.” Pai likes to call zero-rating something free for customers, but it’s no different from charging more for competing services and sets up a situation where not all internet traffic is competing on equal footing. Not only that, but—surprise!—providers like to use it to promote their own services.

That’s not helpful innovation in anything other than marketing for ISPs to draw in customers and make more money. Meanwhile, the internet innovation most Americans want is service that works quickly and reliably at a reasonable price, as well as maybe a real choice of provider, rather than the current situation, where many customers are stuck with only bad options—or none, really. We don’t need to further enable price-gouging monopolies with terrible customer service, and Pai’s own respect for the public’s rights with these FOIA shenanigans are probably a pretty bad sign for which kind of innovation we’ll get.

(image: Jeremy Brooks on Flickr)

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Afghanistan’s All-Girl Robotics Team Won a Silver Medal at Their Competition

After being denied their visas twice, a six-girl robotics team from Afghanistan finally made it to the FIRST Global Challenge in Washington, D.C. There, the girls demonstrated their robot in competition against teams from more than 150 other countries, including a refugee team and teams from the nations on Trump’s infamous travel ban.

Though their robot was not a top finisher, the Afghan team was awarded a silver medal for courageous achievement, officially named the Rajaa Cherkaoui El Moursli Award for Courageous Achievement, at the closing ceremonies – a recognition of how hard they had to fight just to be there. From pushing back against sexist ideas about women and education, to finishing the challenge despite receiving their materials later than all the other competitors, to traveling hundreds of miles just to apply for their visas, they had to work three times as hard for privileges that many of the other teams could take for granted. The two other teams recognized for their courageous achievement were South Sudan, who took the gold, and Oman, who took the bronze.

(The Challenge’s other awards had similarly reflective-of-real-life names, including the Dr. Mae Jemison Awards for International Unity, the Ustad Ahmad Lahori Awards for Innovation in Engineering, and the Zhang Heng Awards for Engineering Design. It’s almost like STEM isn’t exclusively pioneered by white dudes…Who knew?)

Though girl competitors at the Challenge were outnumbered 830, to 209, Al Jazeera reports that at least five other nations were also represented by all-girl teams: Ghana, Jordan, Palestine, the United States, and Vanuatu.

In addition to the success of Afghanistan’s team, one of the other heartwarming stories from the FIRST Global Challenge was the collaboration between the Iranian team and a group of U.S. high school students. Due to the sanctions against Iran, the Iranian team did not receive the materials for their challenge at all. And so while they designed the robot, they had some help assembling it from students at George C. Marshall high school in Falls Church, Virginia. “Our team this year has some American members,” they wrote on their team page. “Because we didn’t have a pack and our friends in Washington made our ideas as a robot. Mr. Sam Allen. Dear Elena, Kiki, Christian, and the other kind person.”

However, among all the joyful stories, there’s also a sad close to this competition. The six teens representing Burundi have gone missing. While two of the teens were seen crossing the border into Canada, the other four have not been located yet. Anyone with helpful information about their whereabouts is urged to contact authorities at 202-727-9099.

While I’m sure the FIRST Global Challenge will eventually transform into some horrible branding opportunity for a giant tech company, all these stories about young students helping each other to build robots and celebrate STEM are undeniably wonderful – and I’m especially glad that these girls got a chance to compete after all they went through.

Next year’s competition will take place in Mexico. One hopes that by then we’ll have a world without Trump’s gruesome travel ban – and one without a new, equally gruesome wall between the competition’s first home and its second.

(Via Al Jazeera and Washington Post; image via Shutterstock)

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