Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Ada Lovelace Day

I am a complete Luddite, as the folks who work for my borg's IT department will eagerly tell you. (No, really. They'll even pay for the drinks if you'll just listen to them tell you stories about "that woman." The sobriquet: "The One Who Gets Hysterical" is not lightly awarded.) Luckily, it's not genetic; G/Son, at 4, manipulates my iPhone and MacBook at will. And, I have friends who are not Luddites, and they remind me every year that March 24th is Ada Lovelace Day.

Who was Ada Lovelace?

Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace was born on 10th December 1815, the only child of Lord Byron [the poet who was "mad, bad, and dangerous to know"] and his wife, Annabella. Born Augusta Ada Byron, but now known simply as Ada Lovelace, she wrote the world’s first computer programmes for the Analytical Engine, a general-purpose machine that Charles Babbage had invented.

Ada had been taught mathematics from a very young age by her mother and met Babbage in 1833. Ten years later she translated Luigi Menabrea’s memoir on Babbage’s Analytical Engine, appending notes that included a method for calculating Bernoulli numbers with the machine – the first computer programme. The calculations were never carried out, as the machine was never built. She also wrote the very first description of a computer and of software.

Understanding that computers could do a lot more than just crunch numbers, Ada suggested that the Analytical Engine “might compose elaborate and scientific pieces of music of any degree of complexity or extent.” She never had the chance to fully explore the possibilities of either Babbage’s inventions or her own understanding of computing. She died, aged only 36, on 27th November 1852, of cancer and bloodletting by her physicians.

Thus, March 24th, Ada Lovelace Day[,] is an international day of blogging to draw attention to women excelling in technology. Women’s contributions often go unacknowledged, their innovations seldom mentioned, their faces rarely recognised. We want you to tell the world about these unsung heroines. Whatever she does, whether she is a sysadmin or a tech entrepreneur, a programmer or a designer, developing software or hardware, a tech journalist or a tech consultant, we want to celebrate her achievements.

I work in a traditionally "male" field. I can only begin to imagine how difficult it is for women who work in technology. And, yet, they keep making brilliant achievements. Here's a new project ready-made for Max Daschu!

Picture found here.


nanoboy said...

When discussing the origins of crop plants, most modern plant scientists state that it was women who likely first domesticated plants like wheat, rice, and corn. The reasoning is that in the agrarian societies that exist today, women are the ones who select the seed for the next year's planting. So, here's to the anonymous women who made civilization itself possible.

Teacats said...

Maybe one of today's actresses might create a film project or miniseries that would highlight these wonderful women? The Countess of Lovelace (what a provocative title!) would make a wonderful character study -- Oscar-worthy stuff right there! I was studying her portrait -- and wondering which actress would portray her best .... any ideas?

Jan at Rosemary Cottage

nanoboy said...

(Sorry for the double post.)

nanoboy said...

Oh, one other woman scientist who ought to be remembered, Barbara McClintock. She discovered transposable elements (transposons.) Technically, she discovered their effects by looking at the kernel colors of maize. I read her Nobel Prize speech explaining how she did it, and despite my understanding of the molecular mechanism of transposons, I could not understand how she correctly described them. Her contribution to biology is immense. Today, transposons are used in a great deal of research, and we understand them to be very important in the process of evolution.