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Google Programming

Untangling the Tale of Ada Lovelace 124

theodp writes: To commemorate the 200th birthday of Ada Lovelace, Google's CS Education in Media Program partnered with YouTube Kids on Happy Birthday Ada! for Computer Science Education Week. For those seeking (much!) more information on The Enchantress of Numbers, Stephen Wolfram has penned a pretty epic blog post, Untangling the Tale of Ada Lovelace. "Ada Lovelace was born 200 years ago today," Wolfram begins. "To some she is a great hero in the history of computing; to others an overestimated minor figure. I've been curious for a long time what the real story is. And in preparation for her bicentennial, I decided to try to solve what for me has always been the 'mystery of Ada'." If you're not up for the full 12,000+ word read, skip to "The Final Story" for the TL;DR summary.
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Untangling the Tale of Ada Lovelace

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    Smart as the guy undoubtedly is, I think it has already been established that Wolfram's greatest talent is for self promotion. I would really rather not see his blog become one of Slashdot's go-to sources for slow-news-day stories. He gets quite enough publicity all by himself without Slashdot slapping his every bloggy utterance on the front page.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Surely everyone who's read even a single page of a New Kind of Science -- or just that title, actually -- must admit that Lord Wolfram is a modest, self-deprecating kind of guy.

      • Surely everyone who's read even a single page of a New Kind of Science [...]

        Yeah, that's as far as I got, too.

    • by shoor ( 33382 ) on Monday December 14, 2015 @03:51PM (#51116639)

      This is one of those times when I actually RTFMed.
      I agree there was self-promotion, but Wolfram has the chops to really digest and understand the Victorian era style and necessarily rough first casting of novel ideas. Plugging through all that documentation couldn't have been easy, and it's not like the guy doesn't have other things to do, so he deserves some kudos in my opinion.
      Wolfram may have been serving himself, but he also served Ada and Charles Babbage, and that makes it worth reading.

      • Would someone mod this reply up? Well said.
      • ...Same boat. What a vexatiously self-aggrandizing man. Excellent writing, and probably some very insightful substance that has never been summarized with the right perspective anywhere, but it really needs less Stephen Wolfram. Perhaps someone could re-edit the whole thing to exclude him—and polish the Wikipedia article while they're at it.

        Unrelatedly, Turing's paper on his eponymous test [oxfordjournals.org] is mentioned in the biography and has some hilariously sketchy logic in it. If only publishing were like that tod

  • Hero? (Score:1, Troll)

    by mi ( 197448 )

    To some she is a great hero in the history of computing

    All respect to women, programmers, engineers, and human-beings in general notwithstanding, don't you need to have undertaken something dangerous to qualify for the term "hero"? Especially "great hero"?

    The dictionary definition mentions "exceptional courage and nobility and strength"...

    • Re:Hero? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 14, 2015 @09:54AM (#51113719)

      To some she is a great hero in the history of computing

      All respect to women, programmers, engineers, and human-beings in general notwithstanding, don't you need to have undertaken something dangerous to qualify for the term "hero"? Especially "great hero"?

      The dictionary definition mentions "exceptional courage and nobility and strength"...

      The dictionary definition does not specifically say one must exhibit all three characteristics to be e hero. Strength of character. Strength of the mind. Courage to take a path less travelled. Courage to explore a field of knowledge in which you might not represent to majority. There are plenty of interpretations. It is not restricted to brutality on the battlefield nor the sports venue.

      • Re: (Score:2, Offtopic)

        by rossdee ( 243626 )

        There used to be a Hero Parade in Auckland, NZ
        It was to celebrate gays, lesbians and transgender
        I don't think Ada Lovelace qualified for that, since she was Babbage's mistress, and presumably straight

        • I don't think Ada Lovelace qualified for that, since she was Babbage's mistress,

          Apparently not. She seemed to have a very good relationship with her husband, and he was excited with her work.

          • This is the modern society trying to assign motives to historical figures. Two men who were friends, clearly they must have been gay. A man and woman who were friends, clearly there was an extramarital relationship there too. It's all prurient gossip by armchair historians.

    • http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/hero says for example the following: "a man of distinguished courage or ability, admired for his brave deeds and noble qualities." -- To avoid those who love to nitpick about things let's substitute "hero" with "heroine" and "man" with "woman" here and look at the rest of the definition: a heroine is basically someone who has achieved something particularly noteworthy and possibly challenging, not done something that put them or others in danger or required great physi

      • by mi ( 197448 )

        Einstein is definitely considered a great hero in scientific circles

        Is he? I never heard him being called hero — just about any other praise, yes, but not hero. And for the same good reason.

        The challenge may be intellectual or mental

        It is not about the enormity of the challenge, it is about willingly taking some risk to life (or limb or, at least, wealth and station in life), that shows one's bravery and thus heroism.

    • She wasn't doing anything physically dangerous, but consider the context. In Ada's time, a woman trod on men's societal turf only at the risk of losing her social position -- and lifetime income.

      • by mi ( 197448 )

        woman trod on men's societal turf only at the risk of losing her social position

        Huh? Citations, please... Could you name a few women from Ada's society, who lost their social positions?

        [...] and lifetime income

        Though Ada's father was an asshole (like many poets), her mother was a freaking baroness — and "independently wealthy". And it was her mother, who promoted little Ada's interest in Mathematics.

        If you want to find an actual hero among women-scientists, that would by Hypatia [wikipedia.org], but Ada Lovelace has

        • OK, didn't realize Ada was in an assured position. Yes, I know about Hypatia, but this thread is on the 19th century.

          • by mi ( 197448 )

            OK, didn't realize Ada was in an assured position.

            Well, what did you mean then, when you wrote about her risking her "societal position"?! Being smart was not at all considered "detrimental" — indeed, Ada Lovelace was praised in the royal court for having a "brilliant mind" (see Wikipedia [wikipedia.org]).

            but this thread is on the 19th century.

            Yes, and the 19th century Britain was, probably, among the best places to be a woman. Baroness had it easier than a commoner, but even for a commoner it was not quite so awful

    • All respect to women, programmers, engineers, and human-beings in general notwithstanding, don't you need to have undertaken something dangerous to qualify for the term "hero"? Especially "great hero"?

      Wait, you haven't seen how Ada and Babbage fight crime and have adventures? [sydneypadua.com]

      Anyone interested in Ada Lovelace and/or the story of computing will enjoy that utterly respectful comic.

    • FFS, there's no need to get your panties in a wad over trivial semantics.

    • If we went by the dictionary definition, we'd have to revoke the hero title from thousands of people. Pulled a kid out of a burning building, but it is just normal run of the mill courage and below average strength and no aristocratic heritage.

  • Difference Engine (Score:4, Informative)

    by AntronArgaiv ( 4043705 ) on Monday December 14, 2015 @10:04AM (#51113781)

    If you have not seen the Difference Engine reconstruction at The Computer History Museum in Santa Clara, I highly recommend it. They actually operate it, and it's hypnotic to watch it.

    • Re:Difference Engine (Score:4, Informative)

      by vel-ex-tech ( 4337079 ) on Monday December 14, 2015 @10:32AM (#51113947)

      *sigh*

      The difference engine. Really? Seriously?

      Repeat after me: Ada Lovelace wrote a program for the Analytical Engine architecture.

      I'm sure Babbage's Difference Engine is fascinating, but it can't be programmed. The architecture you're looking for is the Analytical Engine. At least get the basics right.

      Here: A Sketch of the Analytical Engine [fourmilab.ch]. It has never actually been built, although I understand one of the mills almost was.

      The woman [fourmilab.ch] page [fourmilab.ch]. (That's a joke, son.)

      And finally, the table of contents [fourmilab.ch] in case I've missed something in my nerd rage.

      • Re:Difference Engine (Score:5, Informative)

        by AntronArgaiv ( 4043705 ) on Monday December 14, 2015 @11:14AM (#51114239)

        *sigh*

        The difference engine. Really? Seriously?

        Repeat after me: Ada Lovelace wrote a program for the Analytical Engine architecture.

        I'm sure Babbage's Difference Engine is fascinating, but it can't be programmed. The architecture you're looking for is the Analytical Engine. At least get the basics right.

        Here: A Sketch of the Analytical Engine [fourmilab.ch]. It has never actually been built, although I understand one of the mills almost was.

        The woman [fourmilab.ch] page [fourmilab.ch]. (That's a joke, son.)

        And finally, the table of contents [fourmilab.ch] in case I've missed something in my nerd rage.

        In fairness, you can't go to see an Analytical Engine reconstruction., because there isn't one. So the best you can do is the Difference Engine, which, as you correctly point out, Ada had nothing to do with. It's still worth seeing. And it's in Mountain View, not Santa Clara...sorry, about that.

      • by OzPeter ( 195038 )

        *sigh*

        The difference engine. Really? Seriously?

        Repeat after me: Ada Lovelace wrote a program for the Analytical Engine architecture.

        I'm sure Babbage's Difference Engine is fascinating, but it can't be programmed. The architecture you're looking for is the Analytical Engine. At least get the basics right.

        Given that the OP merely mentioned that the Difference Engine exhibit at Santa Clara is fascinating, and made no mention of Ada, I'd suggest that your nerd rage is out of control and you need to sit back and take some deep breaths before you next post.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I saw the Difference Engine reconstruction at the Computer History Museum a few years ago, and was fortunate enough to see the engine operated. It is hand-cranked, and uses ripple carry. The operator reported a significant increase in torque needed when the accumulator hit a major carry.

  • Now you load more garbage on your web page than can be hauled buy a 20 ton garbage truck?

  • Was confused there for a second.

  • by kcitren ( 72383 ) on Monday December 14, 2015 @10:12AM (#51113823)
    Why haven't Alice and Bob been replaced with Ada and Babbage yet?
    • by OzPeter ( 195038 )

      Why haven't Alice and Bob been replaced with Ada and Babbage yet?

      Because then the movie with Ted and Carol would seem even weirder,

      • I don't think most people even get the allusion. I had to think about it for a few seconds.. (I've never seen it, but have heard about it.)

  • tl;dr (Score:5, Interesting)

    by phantomfive ( 622387 ) on Monday December 14, 2015 @12:02PM (#51114605) Journal
    This article is good because Ada is the most controversial person in computer science. Some people claim she was a genius who invented computer programming, and others claim she was a fraud (Babbage told her what to write), gambler, and opium addict. Wolfram spent a lot of time reading through the original documents to figure it out.

    According to Wolfram, she was educationally at the level of around a PhD candidate working on a thesis. She had gotten to the cutting edge of math knowledge of the time, and then had started working with Babbage, with him being kind of like an adviser. Looking at the machine, she did have some fresh perspective and ideas (like you would expect of a high-quality PhD candidate), and she did understand how the Analytic Machine worked. Wolfram predicts that if she had stayed alive, they would have been able to finish the Analytic Machine (Babbage was horrible at project management, and he would have helped her with that).

    Ada comes out looking really good. She was not a fraud, and she did understand what she was doing. Unfortunately, you can't really call her the "first programmer," or the "first person to write a paper on Computer Science," but that's ok. She was a bright, energetic person, with some interesting ideas, who died too young to really investigate them deeply.
    • by iamacat ( 583406 )

      Why are these things mutually exclusive? We had plenty of smart people who were off the rocker in more recent time - think John Nash or Van Gogh. Babbage himself must have come across as a mad scientist at the time - spending all the money on hundreds of gears and muttering about building a machine than can think. It probably took a person who didn't care much about social norms to associate with him publicly.

      Even if she had a lot of help and training from Babbage to publish her book, she was still plenty s

    • by Tablizer ( 95088 )

      Unfortunately, you can't really call her the "first programmer,"

      Who is then? Her writings seem the closest to what we consider "programming". Iteration, conditionals, and (of course) function calls have existed before that time, but her writings are the first that targeted an actual Turing-Complete computing machine, that I know of, rather than just abstract steps.

      • Babbage taught her how to do it.
        • by Tablizer ( 95088 )

          Babbage taught her how to do it.

          We don't really know that. He taught her how his machine worked, but he was not particularly good at describing how it did actual computations on paper it seems, mixing up mechanical ideas with abstract computation ideas.

          It appears they had a back and forth dialog on how to better articulate what it does, and she was the better documentor. Whether that's the first "programmer" or "programming manual writer" is a relatively minor distinction.

          She essentially wrote, "Analytical

          • Whether that's the first "programmer" or "programming manual writer" is a relatively minor distinction.

            I think that's a fairly large distinction lol. Anyway, she was translating an article written by someone else (although she added a large section of notes to it).

            • by Tablizer ( 95088 )

              The key is then how important her additions were. It's my understanding that the original gave few if any explicit examples.

              • Anyway, if you want to call her 'first', I don't really care lol. We can spend decades arguing about the precise definition of 'first' and it still won't matter.

                What matters is who she was, and what she did, and I think the article does a good job assessing that.
    • This article is good because Ada is the most controversial person in computer science. Some people claim she was a genius who invented computer programming, and others claim she was a fraud (Babbage told her what to write), gambler, and opium addict.

      As another post said, why couldn't she be both? And in fact, she sort of was both -- though perhaps not really a "genius" nor exactly a "fraud."

      Ada comes out looking really good. She was not a fraud, and she did understand what she was doing.

      Yeah, she comes out looking a little TOO good. Wolfram was pretty fair, but he didn't really get into the more controversial stuff and the reasons why many historians say she is massively overrated. She wasn't a fraud, but she is often given too much credit for work that was derivative or which was likely developed together with Babbage.

      Wolfram is not a histori

      • Without denying your major points, I still think Wolfram managed to get to the core of who Ada was: an intelligent, motivated intellectual who managed to get herself to the fore of the field of mathematics. She was starting to have insights that you would expect to see from an advanced student, and if she had lived, she probably would have made real contributions to the field.

        Also, I thought the OP was interesting because it delved into the Mechanical Notation Babbage used, and discussed how it enabled h

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