Wednesday, March 24, 2010

what happens when the father of the analytical engine writes poetry?

Hint: It's not pretty.

Forget this world and all its troubles and if
possible its multitudinous Charlatans — every thing
in short but the Enchantress of Numbers.

Charles Babbage's poetic tribute to Ada Lovelace, whom some have credited as the World's First Computer Programmer, due to a technical note which she appended to her translation of Luigi Menabrea's Sketch of the Analytical Engine invented by Charles Babbage.

Section G of the Tech Note describes (yes, forgive me, I'm citing Wikipedia:) "in complete detail, a method for calculating a sequence of Bernoulli numbers with the Engine, which would have run correctly had [Charles Babbage's] Analytical Engine ever been built."

Ada Lovelace was also:

  • Sole legitimate heir to the poet and rake Lord Byron

  • Tutored in Mathematics by Augustus de Morgan

  • Countess and mother of three

  • Dead at the age of 36
And she wrote things like this, which predicted the use of computers to generate music and graphics and display type:

We may say most aptly that the Analytical Engine weaves algebraic patterns just as the Jacquard-loom weaves flowers and leaves. ... [It] might act upon other things besides number, were objects found whose mutual fundamental relations could be expressed by those of the abstract science of operations.


Supposing, for instance, that the fundamental relations of pitched sounds in the science of harmony and of musical composition were susceptible of such expression and adaptations, the engine might compose elaborate and scientific pieces of music of any degree of complexity or extent.


Many persons who are not conversant with mathematical studies, imagine that because the business of the engine is to give its results in numerical notation, the nature of its processes must consequently be arithmetical and numerical, rather than algebraical and analytical. This is an error. The engine can arrange and combine its numerical quantities exactly as if they were letters or any other general symbols; and in fact it might bring out its results in algebraical notation, were provisions made accordingly.

— From Sketch of the Analytical Engine invented by Charles Babbage

She was also apparently a disappointment to her father, Lord Byron, who had hoped for a boy.

Today just so happens to be Ada Lovelace Day, which is an international day of blogging to celebrate the achievements of women in technology and science, and Ada has her very own Google Maps Mashup as a result»

p.s. As I was pulling this post together my Flickr & Twitter friend @jrnoded let me know that he has paid me Ada Honors, which I'm sure I don't deserve, but I am certainly pleased to receive. Thank you, sir.

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