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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Ada Lovelace Day

I have only just found out that today, October 16, is Ada Lovelace Day, in which we're encouraged to celebrate a woman of science.

Nothing wrong with this one. My second book for children, Potions To Pulsars: Women doing science, featured a chapter about her. I have a lot of favourite women of science, including some modern ones, who were kind enough to check the chapters about themselves. I'll do a full post about that and the research I did another day, but just a few lines about Ada,for whom the day is named.

She was born in 1815, the daughter of Lord Byron - yes, that Byron, colourful character, amazing poet and, in the words of a woman in his life,"mad, bad and dangerous to know", who has turned up in at least one novel as a vampire. He and his wife Annabella divorced, he left England and Ada never got to know him. 

Charles Babbage,"father of the computer"

Poor Ada didn't have much of a relationship with her mother either, it seems, but her mother did one thing for her that changed her life and probably the world: she had her taught mathematics. Ada, who was introduced to Charles Babbage,  known as the "father of the computer", became the word's first computer programmer. She translated some mathematical papers from Italian for him and added plenty of notes of her own, including what is the first computer program.
 Analytical Engine, the world's first computer

What if her parents had stayed married? Or if she'd left England with her father? How different might the world have been if, perhaps, she'd become a poet like him instead of studying maths and science with the likes of science writer Mary Somerville? Anyone want to write an alternative universe story about this?

Unfortunately, one of the things Ada used her maths skills for was to design a betting system for the races. Of course, she ended up in huge debt. She died when she was only 36, of cancer.

Thing is, she was a female mathematical genius in a time when nice girls didn't do that sort of thing. Actually, judging from some of the crazy things she did in her lifetime, she was probably regarded as anything but a nice girl! But I have always had a soft spot for her.

So let's raise our glasses in a toast to Augusta Ada Byron, Countess of Lovelace!

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