Book Review

Hidden Figures - A Book Review

March 11, 2017

Hidden figures book review
I so very much wanted to love Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly, but sadly I didn’t. It was educational and interesting, and because the book was turned into a truly excellent Oscar-nominated film it’s a very popular book right now, but I truly can’t say I really enjoyed it.

The book centers on the lives of a group of African American women who because of their gender and the colour of their skin, were limited to teaching math in the segregated schools in the US south until the onset of the US involvement in the second World War. The dramatic rise in need for talented individuals to work in the aeronautics industry opened a door for these women and many others, who possessed the mathematical skills to help develop planes for the war in the sky, and later to help the US beat the USSR in the race to the moon.

Hidden Figures is Margot Lee Shetterly’s first book, and it’s easy to tell. It’s incredibly researched, but the problem is she attempted to cram in every piece of research she did into the book which makes it a very dry read. I read on the subway on my daily commute to work, which means that I generally read in stretches of 30 minutes or so. The heavily fact-based nature of the book, and the very non-linear writing style she uses (jumping back and forth through time, and across characters) made this book a difficult one for me to get through.

Some of the trouble I had with the book might be due my very basic knowledge of the history of racial segregation in the American south and of the space race. I’m Canadian so my history classes in school centered mostly on Canadian history (and a very white-washed version of it at that), therefore the book’s structure and tendency to jump around through time, and across events in history made it hard for me to follow when historic figures and events in the civil rights movement were interlaced with the scientific events occurring at NASA.

In life I find there are generally only two types of people – those who read the book first, or those who watch the movie first. I am firmly in the first camp, but for Hidden Figures I ended up seeing the movie first (in truth only because the hold list at the library was so long). The movie is excellent, but while it’s based on the book, it takes a number of liberties with the story of these truly inspiration women. If you’ve seen the movie and are thinking about reading the book please remember that the movie is a work of fiction based on true events, and I wish in this case I had read the book first.

Have you read the book? What did you think?

hidden figures book cover
Book title: Hidden Figures
Author: Margot Lee Shetterly
Genre: History
Pages: 384
My rating: 2 stars
Buy the book:
The phenomenal true story of the black female mathematicians at NASA whose calculations helped fuel some of America’s greatest achievements in space. Soon to be a major motion picture starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae, Kirsten Dunst, and Kevin Costner. Before John Glenn orbited the earth, or Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, a group of dedicated female mathematicians known as “human computers” used pencils, slide rules and adding machines to calculate the numbers that would launch rockets, and astronauts, into space. Among these problem-solvers were a group of exceptionally talented African American women, some of the brightest minds of their generation. Originally relegated to teaching math in the South’s segregated public schools, they were called into service during the labor shortages of World War II, when America’s aeronautics industry was in dire need of anyone who had the right stuff. Suddenly, these overlooked math whizzes had a shot at jobs worthy of their skills, and they answered Uncle Sam’s call, moving to Hampton, Virginia and the fascinating, high-energy world of the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory. Even as Virginia’s Jim Crow laws required them to be segregated from their white counterparts, the women of Langley’s all-black “West Computing” group helped America achieve one of the things it desired most: a decisive victory over the Soviet Union in the Cold War, and complete domination of the heavens. Starting in World War II and moving through to the Cold War, the Civil Rights Movement and the Space Race, Hidden Figures follows the interwoven accounts of Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson and Christine Darden, four African American women who participated in some of NASA’s greatest successes. It chronicles their careers over nearly three decades they faced challenges, forged alliances and used their intellect to change their own lives, and their country’s future.

Before & After

Painted Vinyl Floor Mat for My Foyer

March 08, 2017

Four years ago I blogged about the DIY foyer rug I made with some colourful fabric and some Polyurethane. The rug did its job for many years, but sadly time and foot traffic took its toll. While sweeping and mopping was able to get it mostly clean, over time the rug started to look a bit dingy and worn. I debated making another rug in the same way, but I couldn’t find any graphic colourful fabric I liked at a price I wanted to pay so I started looking for other options.

Last summer while I was visiting my parents my mom and I were browsing in a fancy kitchen store when I stumbled across these beautiful Vintage vinyl floor cloths by Spicher & Co. There were only two issues – I’d have to get a custom size which meant big $$$$, and the patterns they had were very traditional – not many that fit my desire for something bright and vibrant.
colourful striped rug in a foyer
Photo credit: Sian Richards; Chatelaine
A few months later I was bumbling around the internet and I found the image above. While the foyer is stunning (so bright and open!) it was the rug that drew my eye first. I loved the thick stipes in the vibrant hues. A bit of digging led me to the rug maker - Oliver Yaphe. The hand knotted construction of the rugs made them way too thick to fit under my front door (and the price was way too much for my wallet), but the image gave me a better idea of what I was looking for in terms of pattern and colour for my foyer.

After being inspired by the thick bright stripes I recalled the vinyl floor mats I had seen earlier and decided that I would attempt to make my own version if I could find suitable vinyl flooring. I needed the vinyl to be very thin, and I needed it to be as un-patterned as possible - most vinyl flooring has an embossed pattern to make it appear more like bricks or slate tiles - I didn't want that pattern to still be visible once I had painted it.

I looked at off-cuts, and even remnants and pieces at the Habitat for Humanity Restore, but nothing worked. Luckily I eventually found this vinyl at Home Depot - thin and the horizontal wood pattern would work with my planned horizontal stripes. With that worked out I turned my attention to picking my paint colours. I wish I could say that I was inspired by something in my home, but I cheated. I have a bunch of those 'paint inspiration' booklets and one from Para has five colours that reminded me of the ones in my inspiration rug, and even better I didn't have to spend the time carefully picking harmonious colours. Since I would need only a small amount of each colour I bought sample pots at Lowes.

Once all the materials were in hand, the steps were fairly simple, if a bit time consuming waiting for paint to dry. I used my dining room (aka: my workroom) for this project so it was bit in the way – a garage or other low traffic area would be better if you’re interested in trying it, but I’m not blessed with either. I first cut my vinyl to size using a straightedge and X-Acto knife. Then I primed it with some primer I had on hand from an earlier project. Next up was determining my pattern. I knew I wanted stipes of varying width, but I didn’t want just random sizes. My dad will be thrilled to know I used math to figure out a ratio that could work. Once the sizes of the stripes were determined I marked them using a pencil, and then taped off half of the stipes using painters tape. I painted between two to three coats of each colour using a small foam roller (darker colours needed an exra coat because my primer was white). Once those stripes were dry I peeled the tape up, and repeated the process to paint the other half of my stripes. There was a little seepage under the tape making my lines less crisp than I liked so I touched them up with a tiny paintbrush. The last step was three coats of Polycrylic in a satin finish.
striped painted floor mat from above

Painted floor mat with colourful stripes
I’ve been using my new vinyl rug since the end of November, and it’s held up really well against the stuff I’ve tracked in from outside with no chipping or scratches to the paint caused by little pebbles or damage caused by the water from melting snow off my winter boots. I reused my thin Ikea rug pad under the vinyl to prevent any movement of the rug, and the additional weight of my tulip table keeps it nicely secure.
Tulip table on a striped floor mat
My little experiment has worked so well I’m considering making another for my dining room, but for now I’m perfectly thrilled with how this one looks in my foyer.
stripes floor mat in a foyer

Striped floor mat on a wood floor

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