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The Curious Mind of Ada Lovelace 110

Posted by Soulskill
from the best-and-brightest dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Going beyond the usual soundbites about Ada Lovelace, Amy Jollymore explores the life of the worlds first programmer: 'When I heard that Ada Lovelace Day was coming, I questioned myself, "What do I actually know about Ada Lovelace?" The sum total of my knowledge: Ada was the first woman programmer and the Department of Defense honored her contributions to computation in 1979 by naming its common programming language Ada.
A few Ada biographies later, I know Augusta Ada Lovelace to be an incredibly complex woman with a painful life story, one in which math, shame, and illness were continuously resurfacing themes. Despite all, Ada tirelessly pursued her passion for mathematics, making her contributions to computing undeniable and her genius all the more clear. Her accomplishments continue to serve as an inspiration to women throughout the world.'"
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The Curious Mind of Ada Lovelace

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  • by mark-t (151149) <markt@l y n x . b c .ca> on Tuesday October 15, 2013 @06:18PM (#45137855) Journal
    It's my understanding that she was the first programmer, period. Babbage was designing the machine, but Ada actually designed the first algorithms for it to run, when it was complete.
    • by EuclideanSilence (1968630) on Tuesday October 15, 2013 @07:13PM (#45138277)

      The first computers were humans. There was no first programmer.

      In terms of being a pioneer of formalizing and proving a nontrivial algorithm from axioms, Euclid can't get enough credit for his work like computing greatest common divisor. He was like the Knuth of the ancient world.

      • by Luckyo (1726890)

        If you want to go down that path, first computers were first DNA strands.

        If that's too low level for you, then first nerve cells.

      • The first computers were humans. There was no first programmer.

        In terms of being a pioneer of formalizing and proving a nontrivial algorithm from axioms, Euclid can't get enough credit for his work like computing greatest common divisor. He was like the Knuth of the ancient world.

        The term "computer" used to refer to humans, We can thank Babbage and Lovelace (among others) for turning it into a word meaning "computing machine".

        • Babbage had nothing to do with computers, human or otherwise - n'or did Ada. Babbage invented the "diffrerencing engine". It was Alan Turing who coined the term computer, connecting it initially to a "person who computes" and later to a "machine that computes".
      • by mcgrew (92797) *

        You misunderstand the GP. Before electronic computers existed, "computer" was a job title. They did things like work out logarithms, ballistics tables, scientific math, etc.

    • by gumpish (682245) on Tuesday October 15, 2013 @07:59PM (#45138719) Journal

      This is an old canard that gets trotted out in an attempt to encourage more women to enter computer science and related fields. The ends may be noble but the means are fraudulent.

      Babbage wrote the first programs for his engine, which is a point even Lovelace's defenders acknowledge. [wikipedia.org]

      • by Anonymous Coward

        From your link:

        The exception was prepared by Babbage for her, although she did detect a "bug" in it.

        So she filed the first ever bug report, which makes her an inspiration to QA engineers :-)

        But seriously, the link from the article makes a better case...it's not that she wrote the first program, it's that she was the first to suggest that the analytical engine could act on symbols as well as numbers. Babbage may have been thinking the same thing, but absent anyone for him to tell about it, Lovelace is the first to suggest it.

      • by pz (113803)

        Indeed, especially since the skills of programming a mechanical engine go many eons farther back with, I believe, the invention of the loom. The result was somewhat different (a woven pattern, rather than a scalar value), but the idea of a set of sequentially executed instructions with loops, counting variables, and exceptions, started a long time before Babbage. Knitting and crocheting is rather quite similar, and embodies similarily pre-existing art, as well.

        • by J05H (5625)

          Almost all of that technical heritage in the logic of weaving was maintained by women across cultures. An example contemporary to the lovely Ms. Lovelace and Mr. Babbage would be the founding of the Rhode Island School of Design. That institution was funded by ship's captains to maintain their most talented daughters in programming Jacquard looms for the local textile industry and other arts. Today it is a eminent art and design school if not the best. If not the first programmer, Lovelace was the first non

      • by mark-t (151149)
        All that shows is that there is some controversy about the claim about who was first. I'm in the Ada camp, personally, but I couldn't care less if the first programmer was a man or woman... what amazes me is that this happened over a hundred and fifty years ago!
      • by harperska (1376103) on Tuesday October 15, 2013 @11:41PM (#45140005)

        My understanding was that Babbage's own programs were more akin to today's Hello World in complexity, just as a proof of concept to show that his machine would work in the first place. Ada's program on the other hand was a complete implementation of an algorithm to compute a mathematical sequence (Bernoulli numbers) based on a mathematical formula provided by Babbage. So whether Babbage or Ada was the first programmer would depend on whether you consider Hello World to be a proper program or not.

        • by jonbryce (703250)

          Babbage saw computers as just calculators. Lovelace saw that they could do a lot more than just add up numbers.

      • by T.E.D. (34228)

        Babbage wrote the first programs for his engine, which is a point even Lovelace's defenders acknowledge

        Go back and read that link you provided again. It doesn't say what you think it says. The first half of the above sentence is a debatable opinion at best, and the second half is just flat out not true.

        The one fact in there is that all the "programs" that were published were published under her name. Where there is dispute is that there are some folks who speculate that Babbage actually wrote all the algorithms and handed them to her to publish, and some other folks who say the first folks are full of shit

  • Ok (Score:5, Funny)

    by Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) on Tuesday October 15, 2013 @06:22PM (#45137881) Journal

    "with a painful life story, one in which math [and] shame...were continuously resurfacing themes."

    Sounds about right for a programmer.

  • by Jeremiah Cornelius (137) on Tuesday October 15, 2013 @06:26PM (#45137919) Homepage Journal

    That's enough pain for any woman to bear, in the height of Victorian prudery. Her mother, Anne Isabella Milbanke, was spurned scandalously by Byron at the time - it is said for the affections of his own half-sister, Augusta. That Ada's actual first name was also Augusta, as christened by Byron, only additionally confirms some of the difficulty. Isabella was also an avid mathematical amateur. Byron dismissively abused her as "the princess of parallelograms" in correspondence with friends and colleagues, after the estrangement. When he embarked for the continent, to escape the scandal, he never saw the infant Ada again...

    Nor did he have further contact with the unfortunate Medora, his sister Augusta's daughter, who was evidently sired by Byron, roughly contemporary to the marriage with Isabella.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Sounds like Lord Byron was the equivalent of modern day trailer trash. Abandoning kids, cheating, incest, emotional child abuse.

      Probably could have appeared on Victorian Springer.

    • by QQBoss (2527196)

      Hmmm, I never thought of comparing Bryon to Eminem (with better rap, admittedly) before.

      I didn't need that image. Thanks!

      • by Pseudonym (62607) on Tuesday October 15, 2013 @09:18PM (#45139325)

        To children: Do you treasure discontent?
        With Nine Inch Nails should I impale my eyes?
        And should you copy me and my demise?
        My brain is limp, my mind to untorment
        I strive, however Girls of Spice present:
        With which to procreate my choice should be
        eludes me, and Physician Dre to me,
        believes my face effects of stimulant
        reveals. Since age of twelve, myself I did
        not feel, my humor hanged. Enraged, I tore
        the bust from Pamela, and smacking, skid
        her clothing rearward. Soft, come hither, whore!
        But no, dear Shady, please that phrase forbid,
        for she is mine, and I the world abhor.

  • by Arker (91948) on Tuesday October 15, 2013 @06:44PM (#45138037) Homepage

    "Her accomplishments continue to serve as an inspiration to women throughout the world."

    Not to women, but to people of both sorts throughout the world.

    Who wrote this tripe? Oh, right, an AC.

    • by Pseudonym (62607)

      Not to women, but to people of both sorts throughout the world.

      The statement that you're responding to is accurate, even if it's not the whole story.

      Similarly, it is 100% accurate that he is an inspiration to geeky gay men. That many geeky non-gay-men find a lot that they recognise in his life is also accurate.

    • ... people of both sorts ...

      Only..?

  • by gweihir (88907) on Tuesday October 15, 2013 @06:48PM (#45138071)

    That is incredible sexist. Mathematicians (and Computer Scientists) honor their great ones equally, gender does not play a role. A bit of digging finds a few female mathematicians that are in all respects treated as Mathematicians and honored for their discoveries, not for being (or not being) women.

    Maybe one reason why the gender-nonsense falls so obviously short here is that there is absolutely no gender component to the discoveries of these great people.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      You added the 'just'. I suppose it's sexist in so far as reality is. The truth is that STEM fields are dominated by men and while that's changing, the women in those fields, especially the early ones are considered inspirational to women in the sense that they show that women too can make strides in these fields. Heck, in this case, she started the field. Nonetheless, she, like Madam Curie and others are considered role models to young women. It applies to race too. Regardless of policy, the fact that
      • by Anonymous Coward

        Ok, I understand 'equality' sounds good to you, but it's got nothing to do with a lack of empathy from white males. It's closer to the truth to say that some white males have bought the puritanical self hating propaganda that males and females are identical except for discrimination.

        Males and females have only similar brains, and use them differently. We process thought differently, males tend to systemic thought, females to emotive thought, with autism as extreme male/systemising.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wi

    • by blancolioni (147353) on Wednesday October 16, 2013 @05:08AM (#45141089) Homepage

      Are you feeling bad because your gender was ignored? That's ... adorable.

      • by gweihir (88907)

        Are you felling good because you managed to be condescending? That's pathetic.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Are you proposing that the creator of the difference engine, Charles Babbage, could not program and did not know how to program his own invention?

    Ada did not contribute anything, Charles exchanged letters with her, was most likely in love with her secretely, and as any man in love, gave her too much credit and projected the attributes he admires upon her, even though she had none.

    • Babbage never completed the analytical engine which Lovelace's programs were written for, and the difference engine that was built isn't considered a proper computer in the same programming sense. The most accurate thing to say would be that Babbage and Lovelace collaborated on the first computer programs, but neither of them ever ran any of the programs since they didn't have a computer. If there are no computers to run your program, are you a computer programmer?
  • http://sydneypadua.com/2dgoggles/lovelace-the-origin-2/ [sydneypadua.com]
    written by a woman
    Also, maybe even better and more telling for one single page:
    http://www.harkavagrant.com/index.php?id=298 [harkavagrant.com]

  • It is accepted that she never actually wrote the programs under discussion - the OP was Babbage, though she was certainly highly enthusiastic about the workings of his contraptions and their implications for the world, and studied the topics sufficiently to write insightful and interesting commentary to high degree.

    Of all that is published though, only a selection is ever read by the masses.

  • It appears to be still available as a podcast: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0092j0x [bbc.co.uk] At the time I remember being struck by the possibly of her being influenced by Arkwright's 'programmable' spinning machines
  • Rabid fans and the curious may enjoy this (very fictional) film about Ada's life: Conceiving Ada [imdb.com] (1997)

  • Soulskill, what biographies did you read and which ones would you recomend?

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