Ada Lovelace Day 2019 – a Scottish trip
October 9, 2019 - Women in Computing
For Ada Lovelace Day (8th Oct this year) I was invited to talk at Glasgow University, and so I arranged myself a little Scottish tour taking in a visit to an auntie in Dundee, a day in Stirling catching up with Carron and delivering my Ada Lovelace talk there too. It was a busy couple of days, with meetings to discuss the BCSWomen Lovelace Colloquium (in both Stirling and Glasgow), a fascinating seminar on scientific culture from Katerina Pia Günter (Uppsala Uni) in Stirling, and talks from Sharon Moore (IBM/BCSWomen) and Sofiat Olaosebikan (Glasgow) in Glasgow.
The talk I gave was “Why Ada Was Awesome” which is an Ada Lovelace talk that includes biographical information and also technical details. There’s a biographical sketch that goes something like “her mother forced her to learn mathematics so she wouldn’t succumb to the poetical influences of her dangerous father, and then she wrote the world’s first computer program changing the face of technology as we know it“. This is a bit of an oversimplification – with a few major inaccuracies – and in the talk I try to give a somewhat clearer view of both the biographical details and the technical achievements.
A lot of the insights in the talk come from two books – I’m a computer scientist not a historian so I’m all about the secondary sources (and I can’t read Ada Lovelace’s handwriting, so I’d make a crap historian anyway…). These books are:
https://www.hive.co.uk/Product/Christopher-Hollings/Ada-Lovelace–The-Making-of-a-Computer-Scientist/21790157 Ada Lovelace – The Making of a Computer Scientist by Hollings, Martin and Rice.
This relatively new biography of Ada Lovelace contains a lot of original source material (including photographs of Ada’s letters and diaries, which are to me largely illegible but nice to see) and loads of quotes. I love reading Ada’s own words – seeing how she actually wrote gives a clearer feel to me for who she actually was. This book is also a lot more technical than many other Ada bios, as it looks at the mathematics and science behind the writing, tracing her mathematical development over time. If you want to get a feel for the kinds of problems that entranced Ada as she was learning (and who doesn’t?), this is the book for you.
https://www.hive.co.uk/Product/Julia-Markus/Lady-Byron-and-Her-Daughters/17162353 Lady Byron And Her Daughters by Markus
This biography of Ada’s mum completely overturned all the preconceptions I’d had of her – she wasn’t the fierce dictatorial mother forcing Ada to study mathematics, instead she was a broad minded philanthropist, founder of schools based on cooperative principles, abolitionist and supporter of Ada’s obvious love of mathematics. Byron, the dad, on the other hand, was an utter dick.
If you’re in Aberystwyth over the coming weekend you can see a version of this talk at the Aberystwyth Steampunk Spectacular on Sunday 13th October https://www.steampunk.wales/