October 15 is Ada Lovelace day this year. Who’s she? She’s been called “the first computer programmer”, which is remarkable because she lived from 1815 to 1852 — long before electronic computers existed. Her “program” calculated Fibonacci numbers for Charles Babbage’s steam-driven(!) mechanical device called “the Analytical Engine”. It was to be programmed by a succession of punch cards (or punch boards, actually).
Last month, BBC Radio 4 broadcast a 30-minute radio program about Ada Lovelace. She was the daughter of the English poet Lord Byron and his wife Anabel. She seems to have combined her mother’s analytical mind with her father’s wild imagination. While Babbage was obsessed with calculating large tables of numbers (logarithms, trigonometric functions, arithmetic series), Ada imagined that a general purpose computing machine could also create music and graphics — quite a leap!
Unfortunately, Ada died of cancer at age 36. Neither she nor Babbage ever saw the Analytical Engine run.
Today, “Ada” is the name of a modern computer language. Findingada.com celebrates her day and women in science, technology, engineering and math, on October 15.
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