Roll On Yesterday

Hmm. Well. I missed it. Yesterday was Ada Lovelace Day apparently. I don’t feel too disappointed in myself, since it’s not very official, and wasn’t a major news item. Actually, I am disappointed in the latter, but it’s not my fault.

To quote from the site:
Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace was born on 10th December 1815, the only child of Lord Byron and his wife, Annabella. Born Augusta Ada Byron, but now known simply as Ada Lovelace, she wrote the world’s first computer programmes for the Analytical Engine, a general-purpose machine that Charles Babbage had invented.

Ada had been taught mathematics from a very young age by her mother and met Babbage in 1833. Ten years later she translated Luigi Menabrea’s memoir on Babbage’s Analytical Engine, appending notes that included a method for calculating Bernoulli numbers with the machine – the first computer programme. The calculations were never carried out, as the machine was never built.

hedy lamarrAll the pro-Ada information around will be straightforward and unquestioning like that, but, in reality, the exact level of involvement she had with Babbage’s technology is not known. Still, she encouraged him and paid for his experiments, so she definitely had an interest. And her mother, to Byron’s perplexity, was a distinguished mathematician. Perhaps Ada inherited Annabella’s mathematical genes.

An informal survey by the Ada site put her at the top of the list of inspirational women in science and technology. I like her story, but she wouldn’t have been my top. Others on the list that I’d have ranked higher would have included Grace Hopper, who was a real computing pioneer. Also, she became an Admiral, which is pretty cool.

Marie Curie got two Nobel prizes and invented radioactivity. Rosalind Franklin was robbed of a Nobel prize when Crick & Watson stole her DNA data. Lise Meitner was the theoretical physicist who explained nuclear fission, resulting in the award of a Nobel prize. To her assistant, Otto Hahn. Hedy Lamarr invented the frequency-hopping technology that cellphones use. She was also the first actress to appear fully nude in a feature film. Caroline Herschel was an early astronomer, inspired to start observing by her more famous brother. Jocelyn Bell (now Bell Burnell) is also an astronomer, from Belfast, who discovered pulsars while still a grad student. Her supervisor got a Nobel prize for that.

The list goes on. There are plenty of examples to inspire girls to study science or technology. And plenty of examples of the unjust lack of recognition of women to make them angry. Me too.


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