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All You Need Is Lovelace

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

by Tim Moran

Some of you might remember a thing or two about Ada Lovelace, whose name and story crop up periodically in the computer press.

For those of you who aren't acquainted with the lady--aka, Countess of Lovelace and Augusta Ada Byron (she was the illegitimate daughter of the infamous British Romantic poet, George Gordon, Lord Byron)--Ada, Wikipedia explains, is:

[C]hiefly known for her work on Charles Babbage's early mechanical general-purpose computer, the analytical engine. Her notes on the engine include what is recognized as the first algorithm intended to be processed by a machine; as such she is often regarded as the world's first computer programmer.

...thecomputer language Ada, created on behalf of the United States Department of Defense, was named after [her]. The reference manual for the language was approved on 10 December 1980, and the Department of Defense Military Standard for the language, 'MIL-STD-1815,' was given the number of the year of her birth.

What you probably don't know, however, is that March 24, 2010, was the second annual "Ada Lovelace Day." And what's that you ask? According to supporting site FindingAda.com, it's "an international day of blogging to celebrate the achievements of women in technology and science."

Among other things, the goal of the day is "to get 3072 [one of the standard lengths for an 8-bit encryption key] people to sign the pledge and blog about their tech heroine" in an effort to "focus on building female role models not just for girls and young women but also for those of us in tech who would like to feel that we are not alone in our endeavours."

To be sure, Ada was pretty much alone in her day in her endeavors, nor did she have a lot of time to pursue them. "She never had the chance to fully explore the possibilities of either Babbage's inventions or her own understanding of computing," writes FindingAda.com. "She died, aged only 36, on 27th November 1852, of cancer and bloodletting by her physicians." Yeeesh.

So, this is my little contribution to the day. Always a fan of Byron's, it seems like the least I can do for his mathematically inclined offspring. One can only imagine what she would be doing, say, working at Google today. That she "wrote programmes for Charles Babbage's Analytical Engine, a general-purpose computing machine, despite the fact that it was never built" would make her feel right at home there.