1476747040 (N) by Greg Proops

1476747040 (N) by Greg Proops

Author:Greg Proops [Proops, Greg]
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: Touchstone
Published: 0101-01-01T00:00:00+00:00

ADA LOVELACE (1815–1852)

The Analytical Engine weaves algebraic patterns, just as the Jacquard loom weaves flowers and leaves.

—Ada Lovelace

An enchantress of numbers, Ada Lovelace was the first computer programmer, a hundred years before the computer. Sly.

Ada Lovelace was the only legitimate child of the famous poet Lord Byron. Yes, that Lord Byron, the debauched, drinky bisexual member of Parliament and adventurer, the one described by one of his lovers as “Mad, bad, and dangerous to know.” His wife, Annabella, a calculating Woman whom Byron called the “Mathematical Medea,” thought he was deranged and split the scene. They never saw him again. Her mother forbade his mention, and they lived in the country. But Ada always kept a place in her heart for Byron and was buried next to him. She thought of herself as a poetical scientist.

Ada was quite ill as a child; she spent a whole year in bed with the measles. The staunch Annabella was determined that Ada should not be the insane maniac her father was and made her lie still for hours at a time to learn self-control. Anne also brought in tutors of math and science for the same reason—to drive away the fiery moods—and Ada was an adept pupil from early on. Her teachers were eclectic and a who’s who of free thinkers from the age: William Frend, a social reformer; William King, the family’s doctor; and Mary Somerville, a Scottish astronomer and mathematician. Mary Somerville was a hit in 1831 when she published The Mechanism of the Heavens, a translation of the five-volume Mécanique Céleste by Pierre Simon Laplace. She was published by the fantastically named Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge (indeed). She was also one of the first Women to be admitted into the Royal Astronomical Society and has a crater on the moon named after her. But back to young Ada.

Ada was obsessed with machines as a child, designing boats, inventing a steam-powered flying machine, and even writing and illustrating a book called Flyology. As a teen, she had an affair with her shorthand tutor and had her coming-out in society. The tutor was fired, and Ada was given the nineteenth-century cure for having a healthy libido: horseback riding. At eighteen, she attended a soirée where the mathematician Charles Babbage was showing his Difference Engine, an advanced calculating machine. She immediately dug it and struck up a working relationship with him.

In the meantime, she married and had three kids. Her husband became the Earl of Lovelace, which gave her her awesome name. She eventually reconnected with Mr. Babbage while he was working on his Analytical Engine, a newer, more complicated animal. This is where the story really heats up. Babbage gave a talk on his engine in Turin, and Luigi Menabrea, a mathematician who later became prime minister of Italy, wrote up the speech in French. How sexy is this story so far? Our Ada then translated and added her own notes. The machine used punch cards, but Ada saw much more than calculating potential—she saw the poetic potential.


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