Sunday, 13 October 2013

Ada Lovelace Day

Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace (1815 - 1852), is more often known as Ada Lovelace, she was the only legitimate child of Lord Byron.  Ada was somewhat better at mathematics than me and is credited for her work with Charles Babbage the inventor of the 'Analytical Engine' an early mechanical computer and whilst this engine was never actually built, Ada is sometimes credited as the first computer programmer and she referred to herself as a 'poetical scientist', I like the sound of that. 

It was many years ago that I learned that the computer language 'Ada' is named after her.  The other reason that I know of her is that the method of programming of the Analytical Engine was to be via punched cards, based on the jaquard lace looms that used punched cards to create the lace patterns.  With her Nottingham links Ada might have been very familiar with these cards as it was a key lace making centre at this time, but it is Babbage who made the link between the punched cards and his machines.
I assume you are waiting for me to tell you that Ada was also an accomplished plantswoman and gardener.  Well she might have been but I cannot find any reference to this.  She did own a garden along with her then husband William King at Worthy Manor in Somerset, that contained a terrace called 'Philosophers Walk' where allegedly Ada and Babbage would walk and talk mathsy type stuff.  We do know that Ada worked on a algorithm for the Analytical Engine to compute Bernoulli numbers.  Now I have read what Bernoulli numbers are and, quite frankly, the only thing I know now about them remains their name, I am not mathematical beyond what my calculator can help with.  Anyway, back to the point, so picture the scene, Ada and Charles are walking along Philosophers Walk having a deep conversation about Bernoulli numbers when suddenly Ada sees a snail and starts talking about Fibonacci numbers and the golden ratio.  The conversation meanders along and she stops every now and again to admire a rose or pull a stray willow-herb that has self-seeded in the border.   (please note, I have just totally made this up, I have no idea if they discussed fibonacci or snails or what weeds if any were present, however in my head this is all totally possible).
So why am I writing about her in a gardening blog?  I cannot even find a plant named after her.

Why not?  She was impressive.

10 comments :

  1. My first job was typing software manuals for Ada for the MOD. It is amazing how these key people have been overlooked and, trying not to be sexist but.., it is normally the women. I read something in Hortus about a year ago about an amazing woman in Perth when it was first settled who sent back crates of plant material to the UK but there is nothing named after her and she is pretty much unknown.

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    1. History is littered with the gaps where women made significant contributions but this has been glossed over or just plain ignored.

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  2. I studied computer science so Ada is a long-time heroine of mine, though I can't claim that Ada was my favourite programming language. I share your disappointment that no plant has been named for her, she certainly deserves it. There again, it is generally true that extraordinary women are celebrated less than their male contempories.

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  3. Loved this! Thanks for taking the time out to share your words. I am learning so much 'stuff' from my twitter peeps :-)

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  4. Thanks for all the interesting information about Ada. YOu have a most interesting posting today. Like it much. Jack

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  5. Helen Johnstone might be pleased to know that Georgiana Molloy is being acknowledged here in Australia although no plant has been named after her to my knowledge. It would have to be a native though.
    I loved the information, real and imaginary about Ada Lovelace. So many plants are named after people. You might be interested in a post I put on my blog: http://stveda.blogspot.com.au

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    1. Thanks for this - love your blog post - anything that mentions Mary Webb and Gertrude Jekyll on the same page works for me :)

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  6. thanks all for your kind words.

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  7. I recall seeing the Babbage machine in the Natural History Museum in London years ago. The description next to it didn't mention Ada; I hope that's been updated now.

    I love the image you conjoured of Ada & Charles: even if it didn't happen that way, given how mathematical nature is, I'm sure it figured in their thinking somehow.

    Most enjoyable post Alison.

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